My first reading of Parker Palmer‘s book, On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity, and Getting Old, occurred sometime between late 2018 and early 2019. I found great comfort in it then, and I am in my second reading. It’s even better now.
My second round of reading On the Brink of Everything began when I picked it up from my desk one day shortly after the pandemic began in March 2020. When I seek comfort, peace, and light, I turn to the Bible, prayer, or the words of believers. Palmer is one of those believers. On the Brink had brought me comfort before, along with a tasty tidbit of humor here and there. Why not give it a second go?
I opened the covers and the book fell right to Part V. Keep Reaching Out: Staying Engaged with the World. Stunned, as I sat in my recliner, this had been the most important part of my first reading. One of the essays in this section focused on the author’s anger and his Quaker beliefs as well as his anger at the outcome of the 2016 election.
When I first read Palmer’s words, I too was struggling with anger over the 2016 election and what the world’s view of our country must be. I began rereading Part V at a time I was fighting depression and anger over the pandemic and the manner in which it was handled, or should I say mishandled. Add to this the protests and riots in Portland and the upcoming 2020 presidential election. I was in need of another dose of Palmer’s essay, The Soul of a Patriot (p. 124). The essay continues to serve my needs well.
Palmer shares this quote from William Sloane Coffin found in a passage written by the pastor/activist:
There are three kinds of patriots, two bad, two good. The bad ones are the uncritical lovers and the loveless critics. Good patriot’s carry on a lover’s quarrel with their country, a reflection of God’s lover’s quarrel with the world.
From Credo by William Sloane Coffin (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2004), p. 84
From this quote, I gleaned an image of God sparring in a lover’s quarrel with the world. He must stay busy considering the state of our world! But this isn’t all the chapter speaks to. The author discusses his own battle with depression and our culture’s impact on us.
Palmer defines his vision of sanctuary, a sacred space where we can go and seek peace and comfort and reclaim our souls for the purpose of loving the world.
I know I need sanctuary if I want to loosen the grip of our culture’s violence on me. … The one I need may not be a building, but silence, the woods, a friendship, a poem, or a song.
From On the Brink of Everything by Parker J. Palmer, p. 141
I don’t have to go far to find a sanctuary as we live on a property that provides all the sanctuary one needs. Under approximately 24 evergreen trees, some possibly old-growth trees, is our home in what we lovingly refer to as Meyer Woods. My husband, Bob, takes occasional late afternoon walks along the flagstone pathways. He calls it his own personal labyrinth. Sometimes I go with him. It is a most peaceful walk and one that takes whatever stresses I’ve felt during the day away.
When I walk away from Palmer’s writings, I sense within myself a sense of quietude and calmness I didn’t feel when I first started reading. These days I pick up On the Brink and randomly pick something to read. There are always glimmers of hope and wholeness no matter the page number.
I close with a quote attributed to Hermann Hesse, a German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. Hesse’s words direct us toward a stillness within ourselves. This is a beautiful thought painting an obvious picture of a place to go at any time, in any place, and just be yourself. So simple.
Here’s to finding your sanctuary,
Featured Image Attribution: City of Portland, Oregon, Parks and Recreation, Forest Park
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