Friday, November 13, 2015

The eraser's mark.


     In his book, Let Your Life Speak, the Quaker author Parker Palmer tells the story of his seeking guidance at a critical point in his professional life.  Many of the counselors around him suggested that he wait, pray, be in silence, and eventually "way will open".  He follows their advice, but, after several months, finds that nothing has happened.  He takes this concern to a wise Quaker woman, Ruth, who told him, "[I]n sixty-plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me."  Palmer goes on to write, "Then she spoke again, this time with a grin.  'But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that's had the same guiding effect.'"*
       That story had a profound impact on me when I first read it about fifteen years ago.   I, too, was in a place of professional discernment and what the story allowed me to do was to look behind me and see what doors had closed behind me.  Some of those doors were closed for me; others I closed, either intentionally or unintentionally.  But, when I recognized that they were closed, a great wave of relief rolled over me.  I didn't HAVE to keep trying to go back through those doors, or keep them open.  I could allow them to be shut, and use my energy to move forward.  I have gone back to that story again and again at juncture points in my life, as well as suggesting the wisdom to others who were discerning which way to go.      I recalled it once again when I heard an interview this week with Adam Gopnik, a staff writer for The New Yorker, in which HE reflects how his father had rejected the "explicit Judaism that he had inherited." He goes on to say "Our Jewishness was visible on us through the marks of the eraser, which were stronger than the writing — act of writing itself."  Visible...through the marks of the eraser...stronger than the act of writing.        And I began to consider what I have "erased" twists and turns, ups and downs, of my life.  Like doors closing, some of the things that have been "erased" have been unintentional. (For example, I didn't consciously CHOOSE to stop playing tennis; it just happened after I left high school.)  Other things, perhaps more significant things, I have deliberately chosen to erase:  some ideas about God; certain notions of exclusivity; superiority of one way of "knowing" over another. As I look back at the "ways" that have closed behind me, or the marks of the eraser that I've wielded, I rejoice in the possibilities that have been afforded by those means of liberation. The way that opened before me is NOTHING that I could have expected.       But I wonder if we also need to take that eraser to things that might tie us to a particular vision of the future. I think of the stories in the New Testament gospels about Jesus warning his disciples against telling anyone he is the Messiah** (the "Messianic Secret", as biblical scholars characterize it). Interpretive wisdom has it that Jesus wanted to keep people from imposing their ideas of "messiah-hood" on him; by so doing, they could inhibit his mission.
      Maybe the eraser's mark behind us frees us from bondage to the past.  Maybe, too, the eraser's mark in front of us can open us to very new ways of being.



* Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass, 2000), 38.
** See, for example, Matthew 16.13-20.

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