Parker Palmer’s book blew my mind as he literally flipped conventional wisdom upside-down.
We often think of God as ‘up’, so it may be only natural that we want to ‘ascend’ toward God and the spiritual life, and that we think of elevation as progress. To the contrary, Palmer suggests that we find our true selves by allowing ourselves to be ‘pressed down’ by the difficulties of life until we find some secure, sure footing. That we become stronger by descending to the bottom of our own abilities, instead of constantly posturing and pretending that we are more elevated and enlightened than we truly are. Experiences of darkness– depression, loss, failure– are not something that we must recover from before we can renew our (imaginary) ascent. Instead, they are the foundation of our life’s most important contributions.
For me, too, this has been true: my experience of grief– and of the unavoidable awareness of my utter weakness– has strengthened me, somehow. By avoiding conventional (and especially contemporary Christian) ideas of grief and the need to “get over it,” I found hope. By letting grief run it’s course, I found more stability. I’m slower than I used to be, but more sure-footed. Of course, I’m not looking for some bright side to the worst thing I’ve ever experienced– I’d much rather know my son. But given that I can’t change that, I’m grateful for the freedom to embrace my loss fully.