Book Review| Let your life speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Book Review: Let your life speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Parker J. Palmer

(Jossey-Bass: 2000), 116 pages


In this short book, Parker Palmer expertly explores the subject of vocation, “a subject that engages us for the better part of our lives” (p. vii). Palmer reminds us that “[v]ocation does not mean a goal that I pursue but a calling that I hear” (p. 4). To hear that call, one has to listen for guidance from within. According to Palmer, “The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions” (p. 7). In our pressurized world of activities, perhaps summer is the best time to take a step back and create the conditions that foster the trustworthy conditions to truly hear our lives speak.


This book offers six easily digestible chapters. In chapter one, Listening to Life, Palmer invites us into a journey that will “…let your life tell you what truth you embody, and what values you represent” (p. 3). Chapter two, Now I Become Myself, reminds us that it can take a long time to become the person one has always been, to unfurl one’s true self. In discovering our vocation, we fulfill the original selfhood given to us at birth. In chapter three, When Way Closes, we encounter a beautiful truth that “…there is much guidance in way that closes behind us, as there is in way that opens ahead of us” (p. 54). This is because when a door closes, it provides us with moments to honor our limitations and use our gifts in ways that fulfill the potentials God gave us as birthright gifts. In chapter four, All the Way Down, Palmer takes us into his own ‘dark night of the soul’. Palmer shared, “Though I recommend it to no one—and I do not need to, for it arrives unbidden in too many lives—depression compelled me to find the river of life hidden beneath the ice” (p. 57). During his depression he was able to see that this was a journey toward selfhood and a journey toward God. He noted, “True self is true friend. One ignores or rejects such friendship only at one’s peril” (p. 69). In chapter five, Leading from Within, we are encouraged to bear more gracefully the responsibilities that come with being human. We are reminded we all have a common call to leadership “…leadership is everyone’s vocation, and it can be an evasion to insist that it is not. We live in the close-knit ecosystem called community, everyone follows, and everyone leads” (p. 74). In chapter six, There Is a Season, Palmer employs a seasonal metaphor. Here he notes, “Seasons are a wise metaphor for the movement of life.…the cycle of seasons reminds us that the journey never ends. Throughout our lives we are asking “Who am I? and Whose am I?” in the words of Rilke, “living the questions” (pp. 95-96).


True vocation joins self and service so that we may experience deep gladness. So let me close with this profound statement by Palmer, “[w]hen the gift [of my vocation] I give to the other is integral to my own nature, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself—and me—even as I give it away” (p. 49).


Parker J. Palmer is founder and Senior Partner Emeritus of the Center for Courage and Renewal.

Center for Faithful Business

Seattle Pacific University

Dr. JoAnn Flett, Executive Director


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