A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue

Wednesday, January 7, 2015 - 5:27am

A Friendship, A Love, A Rescue

"…I stand among you as one who offers a small message of hope, that first, there are always people who dare to seek on the margin of society, who are not dependent on social acceptance, not dependent on social routine, and prefer a kind of free-floating existence under a state of risk. And among these people, if they are faithful to their own calling, to their own vocation, and to their own message from God, communication on the deepest level is possible. And the deepest level of communication is not communication, but communion. It is wordless. It is beyond words, and it is beyond speech and beyond concept."
The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton

I met Thomas Merton a year after he died. I met him through his writing and through the communion that lies “beyond words,” met him in the seamless way good friends meet again after a long time apart. Without Merton’s friendship and the hope it has given me over the past forty-five years, I’m not sure I could have kept faith with my vocation, even as imperfectly as I have.

My vocational journey to what Merton calls “the margin of society” — at least, the margin of my known world — began in 1969 when I was completing my doctoral work at Berkeley. As the 1960s unfolded, the academic calling that brought me to graduate school had become less and less audible. Vietnam, a spate of assassinations, race riots and “the fire next time” in several major American cities — all of this had me hearing an insistent inner voice saying, “Your vocation is in the community, not the classroom.”

I turned down several opportunities to become a professor, and in July of 1969 moved with my wife and two children to Washington, D.C., to begin work as a community organizer. No one could understand what I was doing, beyond committing professional suicide. In truth, I could not explain it to myself, except to say that it was something I “couldn’t not do,” despite the clear odds against success.

I had no training or experience as a community organizer; much of the work had to be funded by grants I had no track record at raising; and I was an idealistic and thin-skinned young man temperamentally unsuited for the hard-nosed world of community organizing. Compared to accepting a salaried and secure faculty post, as such posts were back in the day, I was stepping off the edge into “a kind of free-floating existence under a state of risk.” Companions would have been comforting, but few are to be found when you go over the cliff.

Thomas Merton at a picnic at Gethsemane in 1967.

(The John Jacob Niles Photographic Collection / © All rights reserved..)

Meeting Merton

After five months in D.C. — when the thrill of my free-fall had been replaced by the predictable bruises, cuts, and broken bones — I walked into a used book store near Dupont Circle. A friend had recommended that I read The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann. It was not on the shelf, but in the place where it would have been was another book I knew nothing about: The Seven Storey Mountain by Thomas Merton. I remember thinking, “It’s about a mountain and the author’s surname begins with M. Close enough…” So I bought it.

That was early in December, 1969. Merton, I soon learned, had died almost exactly one year earlier. But he came alive as I read his autobiography, as he had for millions before me. I never felt that I had merely discovered a new author worth reading. Instead, I knew I had met a kindred spirit who understood me better than anyone alive, better than I understood myself, a fellow traveler who could accompany me on the strange path I had chosen — or had it chosen me?

Wanting to learn more about my new friend, I set out to read everything he wrote. As Merton devotees know, this turned into a lifetime project. The man published at least sixty books, and that counts only those published while he was alive: I’ve lost count of how many more have been published since his death. Merton’s posthumous literary output is, I believe, the first documented case of “perish and publish.”

A few years after I began reading Merton, I learned about his correspondence with Louis Massignon, a French scholar who introduced Western readers to the life and work of al-Hallaj, a ninth century Muslim mystic. Massignon felt that his relation to al-Hallaj was not so much that of a scholar to his subject as it was “a friendship, a love, a rescue.” He did not mean that he had rescued al-Hallaj from historical obscurity, but that the Muslim mystic had reached out across time to rescue him.

That’s what Merton did for me as I read and re-read The Seven Storey Mountain. Forty years later, I’m still reading him, still finding friendship, love, and rescue — essential elements in serving as a messenger of hope. Imparting hope to others has nothing to do with exhorting or cheering them on. It has everything to do with relationships that honor the soul, encourage the heart, inspire the mind, quicken the step, and heal the wounds we suffer along the way.

Merton has companioned me on my journey and illumined my path, offering life-giving ways to look at where I’ve been, where I am right now, and where I’m headed. I want to say a few words about four of those ways.

The Quest for True Self

First comes the pivotal distinction Merton makes between “true self” and “false self,” which helped me understand why I walked away from the groves of academe toward terra incognita. No reasonable person would call my early vocational decision “a good career move.” But looking at it through Merton’s eyes, I came to see that it was a first step on a life-long effort to be responsive to the imperatives of true self, the source of that inner voice that kept saying, “You can’t not do this.”

I grew up in the Methodist Church, and I value the gifts that tradition gave me. But at no point on my religious journey — which included religious studies at college, a year at Union Theological Seminary, a Ph.D. in the sociology of religion, and active memberships in several mainline Protestant denominations — was I introduced to the contemplative stream of spirituality that Merton lived and wrote about. His notion of the quest for true self eventually led me to Quakerism, with its conviction that “there is that of God in every person.” The quest for true self and the quest for God: it’s a distinction without a difference, one that not only salvaged my spiritual life but took me deeper into it.

“Most of us,” as Merton brilliantly observed, “live lives of self-impersonation.” I cannot imagine a sadder way to die than with the sense that I never showed up here on earth as my God-given self. If Merton had offered me nothing else, the encouragement to live from true self would be more than enough to call his relation to me “a friendship, a love, a rescue.”

Bob Cunnane, John Howard Yoder, and Thomas Merton in conversation at the 1964 peacemaker retreat.

(Jim Forest)

The Promise of Paradox

The notion of paradox was central to Merton’s spiritual and intellectual life, not merely as a philosophical concept but as a lived reality. Given the many apparent contradictions of my life, nothing Merton wrote brought him closer to me in spirit than the epigraph to The Sign of Jonas: “…I find myself traveling toward my destiny in the belly of a paradox.” It is no accident that my first book featured a lead essay on Merton and was titled The Promise of Paradox.

Merton taught me the importance of looking at life not merely in terms of either-or but also in terms of both-and. Paradoxical thinking of this sort is key to creativity, which comes from the capacity to entertain apparently contradictory ideas in a way that stretches the mind and opens the heart to something new. Paradox is also a way of being that’s key to wholeness, which does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.

For me, the ability to hold life paradoxically became a life-saver. Among other things, it helped me integrate three devastating experiences of clinical depression, which were as dark for me as it must have been for Jonas inside the belly of that whale. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” was the question that came time and again as my quest for light plunged me into darkness. In response, Merton’s lived understanding of paradox came to my rescue. Eventually I was able to see that the closer I move to the source of light, the deeper my shadow becomes. To be whole I have to be able to say I am both shadow and light.

Paradoxical thinking can also save us from the crimped and cramped versions of faith that bedevil Christianity and are, at bottom, idolatries that elevate our theological formulae above the living God. Merton — who had a deep appreciation of Taoism, Zen Buddhism, and Sufism — once put this in words so fierce that, if taken seriously, could generate enough energy to transform the Christian world:

The Cross is the sign of contradiction — destroying the seriousness of the Law, of the Empire, of the armies.... But the magicians keep turning the cross to their own purposes. Yes, it is for them too a sign of contradiction: the awful blasphemy of the religious magician who makes the cross contradict mercy! This is of course the ultimate temptation of Christianity! To say that Christ has locked all the doors, has given one answer, settled everything and departed, leaving all life enclosed in the frightful consistency of a system outside of which there is seriousness and damnation, inside of which there is the intolerable flippancy of the saved — while nowhere is there any place left for the mystery of the freedom of divine mercy which alone is truly serious, and worthy of being taken seriously."
— from “To Each His Darkness” in Raids on the Unspeakable

Untitled photo of Thomas Merton, 1967-68.

(Ralph Eugene Meatyard)

The Call to Community

For several years after the 1948 publication of The Seven Storey Mountain, the Abbey of Gethsemani was flooded with young men who wanted to join Merton in the monastic life. Though I came to the party twenty years late, I too wanted in. But I had a few liabilities when it came to becoming a Trappist monk, including a wife, three children, and Protestant tendencies. I needed to find another way into “life together” in a spiritual community.

So in 1974, I left my community organizing in Washington, D.C. and moved with my family to a Quaker living-learning community called Pendle Hill, located near Philadelphia. For the next eleven years, I shared a daily round of worship, study, work, social outreach, and communal meals with some seventy people in a spiritually-grounded community that was as close as I could get to my image of the life Merton lived. That image was of a “community of solitudes,” of “being alone together,” of a way of life in which a group of people could live more fully into Rilke’s definition of love: “that two (or more) solitudes border, protect and salute one another.”

This is not the place to write about the many ways a decade-plus at Pendle Hill deepened and strengthened my sense of vocation, a topic I have explored elsewhere. Suffice it to say that in the Quaker tradition I found a way to join the inner journey with social concerns, and eventually founded a national non-profit, the Center for Courage & Renewal, whose mission is to help people “rejoin soul and role.” My experience at Pendle Hill also gave me the impetus to take one more step toward “the margin of society.” For the past quarter century, I have worked independently as a writer, teacher, and activist, unsheltered by any institution.

When my courage to work at the margins wavers, I take heart in what Merton said in his final talk, given to a conference of monks in Bangkok a few hours before he died. Quoting a Tibetan lama who was forced to flee his monastery and his homeland, Merton advised the monks, “From now on, Brother, everybody stands on his own feet.” In words that ring true for me at a time in history when our major social institutions — religious, economic, and political institutions — are profoundly dysfunctional, Merton goes on to say:

"...we can no longer rely on being supported by structures that may be destroyed at any moment by a political power or a political force. You cannot rely on structures. They are good and they should help us, and we should do the best we can with them. But they may be taken away, and if everything is taken away, what do you do next?"

Untitled photo of Thomas Merton with friends, 1967-68.

(Ralph Eugene Meatyard)

Hidden Wholeness in a Broken World

As the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe famously reminded us, “things fall apart.” But in “Hagia Sophia,” one of Merton’s most lyrical pieces, he writes about the “hidden wholeness” the spiritual eye can discern beneath the broken surface of things — whether it’s a broken political system, a broken relationship, or a broken heart:

"There is in all visible things an invisible fecundity, a dimmed light, a meek namelessness, a hidden wholeness. This mysterious Unity and Integrity is Wisdom, the Mother of all, Natura naturans

These words, too, have served as a source of hope for me. Once one has eyes to see it, wholeness can always be discovered, hidden beneath the broken surface of things. This is more than a soothing notion. It’s an insight that can shape what the Buddhists call “right action,” if we have eyes to see. Here’s an instance of what I mean.

In the early 1970s — as I was reading Merton and learning about organizing for racial justice in a rapidly changing neighborhood — I began to understand that my job was not to try to compel people to do things they did not want to do, such as protesting against unscrupulous real estate practices like blockbusting and redlining. Instead, I needed to give them excuses and permissions to do things they really wanted to do — things related to the justice agenda — but were too shy or fearful to do under their own steam.

For example, the people in the neighborhood where I lived and worked had already run from “the other” once, driven by the fear that animates white flight. But in their heart of hearts, they had come to understand that there is no place left to run, no place to escape the diversity of the human community, and that embracing it might bring them peace and enrich their lives.

I knew that step one in stopping real estate practices that manipulate fear for profit was simple: give the old-timers and the newcomers frequent chances to meet face-to-face so they could learn that “the other” came bearing blessings, not threats. But instead of asking folks to do the impossible — e.g., “Just knock on a stranger’s door and get to know whoever answers” — my colleagues and I began creating “excuses and permissions” for natural interactions: door-to-door surveys, block parties, ethnic food fairs, and living room conversations about shared interests, to name a few.

Amid the racial tensions of our era, we helped people act on their deep-down desire to live in the “hidden wholeness” that lies beneath the broken surface of our lives. And it worked. Over time, because of our efforts and those of many others, a community that might have ended up shattered became diverse and whole.

Things do not always work out so well, of course. History is full of tragically failed visions of possibility, and the more profound the vision, the more likely we are to fall short of achieving it. But even here, Merton has a word of hope for us, a paradoxical word, of course:

"…do not depend on the hope of results. …you may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself."

As long as we are wedded to “effectiveness” we will take on smaller and smaller tasks, for they are the only ones with which we can get results. If we want to witness to important but impossible values like love, truth and justice, there must be a standard that trumps effectiveness. The name of that standard is “faithfulness.” At the end of the road, I will not be asking about outcomes. I’ll be asking if I was faithful to my gifts, to the needs I saw around me, to the ways in which my gifts might meet those needs, to “the truth of the work itself.”

For helping me understand this — and for imbuing me with the faith that, despite my many flaws, I might be able to live this way — I owe a debt of deep gratitude to Thomas Merton, friend, fellow traveler, and messenger of hope.

(I have saved my favorite Merton line for the end of this piece, relegating it to the status of a footnote to keep myself from prattling on about it: “I had a pious thought, but I am not going to write it down.")

This essay appears in We Are Already One: Thomas Merton’s Message of Hope — Reflections in Honor of His Centenary (1915-2015) from Fons Vitae Press.

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Parker J. Palmer

is a columnist for On Being. His column appears every Wednesday.

He is a Quaker elder, educator, activist, and founder of the Center for Courage & Renewal. His books include Healing the Heart of Democracy, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, and Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Share Your Reflection



Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing,
There is a field. I'll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
The world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, Language, even the phrase "each other"
Doesn't make any sense. --Rumi
Thank you for befriending me through your work and meeting me in that "field beyond wrongdoing and right doing." You have certainly carried on Thomas Merton's legacy of friendship, love and rescue for myself and many!

I just finished A Hidden Wholeness (two days ago) and have been marvelling at how much I resonate with all that you write. Now I know why, as Thomas Merton is my model for living a contemplative life. Thank you for sharing how his words and work helped guide your life.

This is such a lovely, reflective piece that truly does give the gift of hope to all of those souls out there that strive to make this world a better place for all.

As I read this, I couldn't stop my tears from flowing. This happens to me only in encounters with simply stated paradoxical truths. Oh bless you for that chance purchase after your 1969 PhD at Berkeley. My chance reading of your work led me eventually to a 1991 Berkeley PhD and to teaching and finding quantum spaces for theatre and learning communities. Thank you for everything.

Excellent piece--thank you!

One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice – – -
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
‘Mend my life!’
each voice cried.
But you didn’t stop.

You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried
with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations – – -
though their melancholy
was terrible. It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.

But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice,
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do – – – determined to save
the only life you could save.


It really is hard to live our one true life and remain true to the course! Thank you for your beautiful piece, Mr Palmer!

Oh what gratitude I feel for having spiritual mentors like yourself and Mr. Merton to walk with, striding deeper and deeper in this world. Thank you for clearing up the distinction between the one life we can fully belong to, and the thousand others which will just exist and slowly suffocate us!

Thank you for more than I can accurately express.

You just helped me.
A deep 'Thank you'.

Alternating between watching a glorious sunrise and reading your words, digesting your thoughts, marveling at the creativity we each hold, smiling at the comments and familiar poems shared by other readers, I feel a sense of community rarely felt. Communion. Thank you beyond words.

Thank you Parker for your reflection on Merton and his impact upon your journey. Like you and so many others, I too have been influenced by Merton's writings. I can still remember my first introduction to his thought..many years ago sitting on a bus heading south from Edmonton to Calgary, Alberta reading The Seven Story Mountain and saying quietly to my self, "Wow! Wow!" Years later, spending time at Gethsemani, visiting his grave and hermitage, walking the hills and passing by the fire watch tower, and reading his public and underground writings. Merton, as you yourself Parker are, has been a wise guide for the journey, which is not yet finished. Thank you for sharing how Merton's writing has impacted your life as an activist, a writer, a teacher, and an elder. Many thanks for drawing my attention to this new work on Merton and for all your efforts to bring healing insight to our broken world.

"When the student is ready the teacher will come". Your article arrived and I was so ready. I am so grsteful for your writing and work. At 74 I am beginning a new phase in my life. This article and your other writing is providing thoughtful guidance. Thank you.

Dear Palmer Parker...I consider you a friend, fellow traveler and messenger of hope just like you felt about Thomas Merton. The good news is that you are still around and able to share such insight to us that you've gathered along the way. Thank you for sharing these four ways that Thomas Merton illumined your path. You've made those paths a little lighter and clearer for us all today. Thank you.

What love in words. How marvellous a gift to read. Thank you.

Yesterday I was on a plane, glancing through an inflight magazine that described Louisville, KY, noting that the city has a monument to what the author called the "epiphany" of Thomas Merton:"There is no way to explain to people that they are all shining like the sun." It was a magnificent quote to read in an unlikely place.


I have come more and more to believe that persevering in the work to which we are called is all we can do. Expecting results -- any results at all -- both distracts from the work at hand and sets us up for disappointment. Thanks for this clear articulation of what I have been discovering, and for a better label than "perseverance," that is, "faithfulness."

Thank you for this piece. I've been struggling with how I'm helping others and wondering if this work is valuable...if anything will come of it. I've always been results driven, and if you piece revealed anything to me it is that I should accept the work I am doing at face value..."for the truth of the work itself".
Thank you.

I discovered Parker Palmer in the 90's when he did the same for me. I discovered Tom Merton in a high school lit class and affirm everything this article shares...thank you Parker Palmer

A chance reposting of this wonderful article by someone on Facebook this morning has led me to you and to Thomas Merton. Your article is so beautifully composed, and I feel as if a door has been unlocked. I must confess I've never read Merton, just seen wonderful quotes here and there. You have led me to that door, Mr. Palmer, and I'm ready to walk on through. Many thanks to you. I look forward also to reading more of your own writing.

Thank you Parker, again & again, thank you for sharing your wisdom and your inspirations like Thomas Merton and your humanity!

I have just reached a hiatus in my spiritual life and reading this is like breathing fresh air. Thank you!

I was 17 in 1949 living in New York City. I had graduated from St.Nicholas of Tolentine High School in the Bronx and had a job at Underwood Typewriters Company, on Park Avenue. I discovered The Seven Storey Mountain and read it that summer an hour each way on the subway. I too was totally changed by Thomas Merton. Now 83, I "see" my deeply yellowed copy of the book in my small library and recently thought I should read it for the fourth time! The pages may crack with age! One of the major thoughts I have adopted all my life was that he didn't believe in success. If I recall correctly he was asked by a journal to provide an essay on "SUCCESS" since he had such a major bestseller. He thanked them, but politely said he did not believe in measuring your life and determining if you were being successful. I have been married 53 wonderful years,have 4 children and 5 grandkids. My life has be peaceful all these years because Merton told me I did not have to be successful.

Thanks so much, Bill, for your story. And blessings on long years well-lived with many more to come! Like you, I had some memory of Merton's comment on success. And like you I got it more or less right—except for the "polite" part! Here's what Merton wrote, using passionate and colorful language: "A few years ago a man who was compiling a book on Success wrote and asked me to contribute a statement on how I got to be a success. I replied indignantly that I was not able to consider myself a success in any terms that had a meaning to me. I swore I had spent my life strenuously avoiding success. If it happened that I had once written a best-seller this was a pure accident, due to inattention and naivete, and I would take very good care never to do the same thing again. If I had a message to my contemporaries, I said it was surely this: be anything you like, be madmen, drunks, and bastards of any shape and form, but at all costs avoid one thing: success. I heard no more from him, and I am not aware that my reply was published with the other testimonials." (From Thomas Merton, "Love and Living")

Thomas Moore would say that this communication, this communion beyond words is the journey of the soul in search of its expression in the universe.

Thank you Parker. I too have learned so much from Thomas Merton. I have always rested in his last words--"we are one."

I read "Seven Story Mountain" in high school, it profoundly changed my life! I entered a religious order for three years but left to teach blind children. I am retired and facilitate retreats, do prison ministry in Camden, NJ. I have a small spiritual direction practice. The mystery of "call" that I first experienced when I read "Seven Story Mountain" has never left me!

I read "Seven Story Mountain" in high school, it profoundly changed my life! I entered a religious order for three years but left to teach blind children. I am retired and facilitate retreats, do prison ministry in Camden, NJ. I have a small spiritual direction practice. The mystery of "call" that I first experienced when I read "Seven Story Mountain" has never left me!

Dear Parker Palmer,
my deep gratitude to you for such a profound gift!
Reading it all just once brought tears to my eyes,I am so very deeply moved by it
and I know,I will re read it several more times.
Your choice of words for the title of your essay are like an affirmation to me,since
I am in the process of putting my story on paper.

Also, please know that I shared your Five Questions for Crossing the Threshold
with my Prayer /Study group in the Episcopal parish last week.

Thank you again for bringing Thomas Merton,s Message close to all who will read
your essay.

At 71 years, the paradox of my life has finally become The Light that allows me to love myself. When I listen to interviews with individuals who have gone through Fire, and are scorched and burned but stand again and share, it is the HOPE. I see the Spirit of God through the Light of Others; here it is...I know I am the Spirit of God, and The Light for Others also.

I stopped to read the article because I knew a man named Merton. I am encouraged by the words because I have always felt I was the square peg that would not fit in the round hole. It gave me an endorsement for "being myself" for the past 77 years. You have given me courage to finish the race. Thank you. Wish I had met Tomas Merton years ago.

Beautiful. I believe that paradox, the 'opposites' as Jung and Hesse have revealed are part of our soul. We struggle to force unity, but ultimately must accept them and befriend them, then out of the shadows a shining light is revealed. I also find so helpful the idea of 'faithfulness' rather than ego effectiveness as a definition of success, success of the soul. It so relieves us of the blocks that arise with an ego driven path. Thank you so much for your experienced wisdom.

Thank you for your soul wisdom!

It takes some work, some reflection and meditation to get to that place.

Thank you for this. I'd like to share a 17th century Quaker quote that I often reflect on as, for me, it reflects hidden wholeness. 'In stillness is fullness, in fullness is nothingness and in nothingness are all things.' It seems that this was offered as ministry in the Meeting for Worship in which Robert Barclay became convinced.

I discovered Merton quite by accident as well. Or was it an accident? It started with The Seven Storey Mountain, which lead me to the rest of his works. I count him among the most influential people in my life, providing nourishment for my life and vocation at the margins. Thanks for the lovely tribute!

God, I offer myself to you, to build with me and to do with as you will. Relieve me of the bondage of self that I may better do your will. Transform my difficulties that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help, of your power your love and your way of life. May I do your will always. --The Third Step Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous-modified.

As long as we are wedded to “effectiveness” we will take on smaller and smaller tasks, for they are the only ones with which we can get results.

I really loved this. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed by the problems I see, but it's a good reminder to realize that I don't have to fix them all, just to act out of my sense of faith and justice. Thank-you!

Parker, it seems like I knew you once, not well, at Carleton College. Some vague memories. But I heard your interview this morning on "On Being". Fascinating and troubling. You have grown in valuable ways. Thank you for your wisdom.

Reading this draws me to go immediately to a cheap bookstore, online or at home, and buy a collection of Barbara Kingsolver's books - a writer who reaches me as Merton has reached Palmer. In so many ways, it feels as if hope and love are reached more easily by women, who often have so much practical experience with the many tiny pieces of loving babies and small children - the best lovers in our world. This article makes me realize what has been hard in being a Quaker, too much male voice, both in meeting and in reading - not in practice. Thanks, Parker Palmer, though I will investigate your writing also!!

Thank You Parker for sharing how Merton blessed your life! Merton continues to be a blessing in mine as well. Your words are very kind, thoughtful and inspirational! And thank you to Kim Manley Ort for introducing you to me! Namaste.

Yes, another soul who has been blessed to have found Thomas Merton. I have carried his words and spirit with me for over 35 years. He has been my companion along the way, my pathwayto God, even when I didn't know it. It is through Thomas Merton that I have been able to trace my journey, my own growth and the hope of continued growth into who I am meant to become.
Thank you, Parker, for sharing your journey. You are an inspiration and a blessing.

Thank you for sharing this important part of your spiritual formation.

The Revelations


the birch

seventy years

filled with

autumn gold

growing still

at ease beyond

the river's edge

above now

the water's flow

great and many fingers


leaf and debris

a boulder

as tall as a man

top hidden amidst

channels of roots


a seed


finding itself



a crevice of rock


toward gravity


toward light


the tree the river the stone

the sounds

a season's leaves

touched by this

passing wind.

Oh Parker Palmer, how you speak to me! From my love of The Courage to Teach to my love of The Responsive Classroom to the Healing the Heart of Democracy. After reading this essay I understand why I feel a friendship, a love, and a rescue when I hear or read you. As a senior in college in 1969 I first read Merton. I too wanted to run to Gethsemane. He influenced my search for my own truth early, as you do now. You just made me realize I need to go back to our shared source and reread Merton! Thank you.

Heard you on NPR Monday, 1215 and was so moved by your thoughts. Interesting that I, too am a follower of Merton. We were forced to read him in Catholic school but it changed so many of our life goals

I, too, began with The Seven Storey Mountain and went on to read everything else Thomas merton had ever written, as well as all the books written about him. When I first read him, I was not yet a Christian. But his story allowed me to own a calling I had ignored for years. The following summer I made a retreat at the Abbey of Getshemani, and there the Holy Spirit entered my body. The following Easter I was baptized, and the rest, as they say, is history. Thomas Merton saved my life!

I loved the entry 1/7/15 by parker palmer on Merton:
A friendship , a love, and a rescue. Thankyou

This is such a brilliant, beautiful, insightful piece. This. This. This. This. Everything you've written here resonates with me. Thank you.

I met Thomas Merton in much the same way you did, but in the 1970's. Still believing in Woman's Missionary Union I was a leader with, but greatly disillusioned by our larger entity, Baptist General Convention of Texas and Southern Baptists, in which I saw growing corruption based on power hunger - I left and considered becoming a Quaker. Instead, I remained a part of Baptist life outside the denomination. Always drawn to solitude, teaching, writing, and helping the marginalized in society, I became a teacher in the public schools of Dallas, Texas. It was through reading Thomas Merton's writings that I first understood paradox and saw that my darkest characteristicss and weaknesses did not have to limit my gentle spirit in God's business.
Thank you, Parker Palmer, for influencing me along my educator path which ultimately led me to university preparation for young teachers, principals, and counselors. You are special, and it blesses me to understand how Thomas Merton came into your life.

What a relief!Thank you! In the 80's was given a full scholarship to do doctoral work at the GTU in theology and the arts and had no idea how a dancer would make such a journey. To be faithful to the Hidden Monastery of Love and the dancing God, I am grateful that "a voice" invited me to practice 3 things: efficiency of energy, clarity of vision, courage to love. I have taken that "path less traveled" and at times is lonely and challenging to stay true especially when by heart knows things that don't seem to have a forum. Gratefully, I am helped over and over by words like yours. A thousand bows. I read Merton's Seeds of Destruction-the profound letters and analysis of racist and antisemitic actions. I am honored to go to Kentucky and the Spiritual Directors International Institute this Spring with my colleague Soyinka Rahim where we'll offer a workshop based in InterPlay in his honor-The Race Dance. Right now? I think I'm headed to the used bookstore for 7 storey mountain.

Like Palmer, I also discovered Merton through his writings, which were helped me to develop an adult faith in college and young adulthood. My favorite Merton moment came 20+ years later, in 1996, while reading Volume 2 of his Journals "Entering the Silence" In the entry for June 20, 1948, Merton writes that he received word that "Seven Storey Mountain" would finally be published. He reflects on all the work that has led up to this moment and recognizes that what will happen next is out of his control. He then writes "Because I now see what it is all leading up to: to the happiness and the peace and the salvation of many people I have never known." Then I realized that I was one of those people.

Your piece has moved me to tears. That I am actually reading my deepest struggles so beautifully expressed is unleashing a release of emotion mixed with pain and joy. I, too, am on the fringe of existence. One foot on the cliff, one foot walks into the divine but endless void. I have a far away teacher who has saved my life and given me hope. But, hearing your words and the words of Merton are like hearing a brother from a cliff on the other side of the void. A welcome sight in the mist of the loneliness one feels when traveling alone. I will read more with the hope of encouragement and brotherhood. Thank you so much.

Oh,finally I got Mr.Parker J.Palmer information from internet.I read his book:The courage to teach three years ago and keep reading once a while now~!~.There are lots of great ideas in the book inspiring me to think a lot of my teaching.Thanks, as well as there is internet,it helps me can learn more from Mr.Parker J.Palmer~!~

Parker, if you have not been following the controversy at Wheaton College, Illinois, about the dismissal of a professor who acted on her conviction of solidarity with muslim women, please do. As an alumna of Wheaton College in Norton, MA, I have become alarmed at the mistaking of the Illinois Wheaton as the same as the Massachusetts Wheaton. Philosophically they are worlds apart, the one College demanding strict commitment exclusively to Christianity, the other College living the liberal in the Liberal Arts.
Starting with "To say that Christ has locked all the doors..." Merton's quote from "To Each His Darkness" is tailored made to address my concerns about Wheaton College, ILLINOIS's, myopic dogmatism and exclusivity. Thank you, Parker, and you, Thomas!
Carol Calhoun

I love the paradox example of living life
So true indeed