Portrait of the Week
Parker Palmer - Madison, Wisconsin, USA
“It (my faith) has been challenged by experiences of failure and experiences of clinical depression, times of deep darkness when I wasn’t sure it was worth living anymore. And I’ve been there and done that three major times in my life now. The experience of depression is really an experience of annihilation of self. When you are lost in the dark you still have a self that you can use to try to navigate and negotiate and grope your way towards some light. But when you become the dark, you don’t have anything to work with. And all semblance of religious faith or a feeling of God’s presence just disappears. What I don’t understand is how some people are able to come through depression and find themselves more alive and more whole on the other side. I don’t understand the mystery of tenacity or whatever you want to call it that allows some people to go through that profound experience and find themselves back in the light with a better life than the one they had before. That’s the real mystery to me. And I genuinely don’t know, “Grace” is the only word I can fall back on.”
I met Parker Palmer and his wife, Sharon, at their home in Madison, Wisconsin, where we had a beautiful afternoon together talking about faith and healing in our own lives. Parker is a poet, a philosopher, a teacher, and, most certainly, a healer. He is a Quaker who has spent most of his life helping others to heal by reminding them—all of us, that is—of our great purpose and connectedness. He founded the Center for Courage & Renewal which seeks to help teachers and those in the helping professions rediscover and renew why they went into those professions before the almost stereotypical burnout occurs. Parker is the author of nine books including The Courage To Teach, A Hidden Wholeness, and, his most recent, Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit. And Parker is very open about his three bouts of clinical depression and how that has been a critical part of his own healing and faith journey. I was so very blessed and lucky to make contact with Parker and to be touched by his writings, his gentleness, and his soul.