Into The Woods

by Amanda Petersen

This week I would like to tell you a story inspired by Parker Palmer and the amazingly gifted women sharing at Pathways of Grace.

Imagine a creature that lives in the woods.  S/he’s very comfortable in the woods.  S/he knows the other creatures, plants, well worn trails and those secret paths only the “locals” know.  This creature has a good life yet something is off.  S/he’s not quite like everyone else.  The difference isn’t external it’s internal. This creature’s thoughts go to questions deeper than just where the latest food source is.  S/he questions the system that is widely accepted and yearns to explore rather than be told what to do or fit in.  This creature also yearns to have a safe place to state what is going on inside.  All the while s/he is not judging other just noticing the difference.  

This creature though surrounded by others feels very alone.  Occasionally s/he will bump up against another creature that is also questioning or see paths that lead to deeper places and that feeds it’s soul.  Yet in the day to day there is a sense of being in the margin of community.  At the same time there is no push to leave though some have left.  All s/he is looking for is a place to rest and share with others what is happening inside safely and free.

Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the “integrity that comes from being what you are.
— Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life

One day, a thin stream of smoke is seen coming out of the woods.  The creature goes closer and sees a small cottage. For a while s/he sits at the edge and just watches.  Other creatures come and go and are welcomed and sent off with a blessing.  Some of them are a surprise because they are people the creature knows.  Then a wonderful smell begins to come from the place and s/he sees a gathering of creatures enjoying meals and conversation.  The talk is filled with wonder, exploration and acceptance.  The creature decides to venture in and even though s/he had never met anyone s/he was welcomed and invited in.  S/he knows now s/he is no longer alone in the woods.

This creature is your soul.

How we are to listen to our lives is a question worth exploring. In our culture, we tend to gather information in ways that do not work very well when the source is the human soul: the soul is not responsive to subpoenas or cross-examinations. At best it will stand in the dock only long enough to plead the Fifth Amendment. At worst it will jump bail and never be heard from again. The soul speaks its truth only under quiet, inviting, and trustworthy conditions. The soul is like a wild animal - tough, resilient, savvy, self-sufficient, and yet exceedingly shy. If we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for the creature to come out. But if we are willing to walk quietly into the woods and sit silently for an hour or two at the base of a tree, the creature we are waiting for may well emerge, and out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.
— Parker Palmer from "Let Your Life Speak", pp. 8-9

This week there was a meeting of those who use the space at pathways of Grace.  As we discussed who were are where we are going an image like this came to all of us.  We are the small place where one is welcomed.  In the middle of life, in the middle of Phoenix, Pathways of Grace is a place for those who wish to continue to explore and grow.  For those who have deep thoughts and soul movements but maybe not a safe place to share them.  A place for those who want to experience what is happening on the inside in order to be able to go back into their own communities refreshed and whole.

I am so honored to work with these women.  Many of them may be new to you.  Take a moment and look up their bios or better yet come experience the welcoming gifts they have to offer.

Spiritual Directors

Friends of Pathways of Grace

When we catch sight of the soul, we can become healers in a wounded world-in the family, in the neighborhood, in the workplace, and in political life-as we are called back to our “hidden wholeness” amid the violence of the storm.
— Parker J. Palmer, A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life