“The greatest accomplishment in life is to be what we are, which is God’s idea of what He wanted us to be when He brought us into being.”
Thomas Keating, American Catholic monk
I sat in a room full of strangers last Thursday, eight of us around a table, each taking a minute to speak our names and tell a little about ourselves. They know each other well, these women, but I’m an interloper, come to share with them what I’ve got — the gift of writing.
I tell them it’s my hope to encourage them to use words to describe their lives right now and to express their hopes for the future. For some of them, the future seems far off and for all of them, life right now kind of stinks.
Life choices and circumstances have put them where they are today — behind bars.
Mostly, I’m not sure what they think of themselves. They don’t know me well enough to be vulnerable and transparent, and some of them won’t be in this facility long enough for me to see behind the bravado, the quiet acceptance, the downcast eyes and shy smile.
I want them to know this: God sees and He knows.
This week, I plan to share with these women what Scripture tells us God thinks of them — that they are fearfully and wonderfully made. I’ll read words describing what He wanted them to be when he brought them into being. I’ll ask them to listen and to write an answer to one big question — “Who are you?”
From David’s song (Psalm 139)
You have searched me, Lord, and you know me…
For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.
My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.
How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them!
Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—when I awake, I am still with you.
I have been asking myself this very question: Who am I? What was God thinking when He brought me into being? How will they answer? What do you say?
Recently, I mentioned Parker J. Palmer’s memoir On the Brink of Everything: Grace, Gravity and Getting Old. In his most recent book, Palmer, a Quaker octogenarian, dips into his storehouse of life lessons to offer a rich feast of wisdom for all of us walking toward the brink. Palmer has written 10 books in his lifetime on topics ranging from teaching to democracy to the paradox of faith. He is the founder of The Center for Courage and Renewal and co-hosts the podcast and website The Growing Edge with Carrie Newcomer.
I’m sharing thoughts on this book and on Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation in a post at The Perennial Gen. This beautiful website is dedicated to “Growing Deeper Roots in the Dirt and Light of Midlife”
A sampling of Palmer’s wisdom:
“Feel at home in your own skin. Show up as your true self.”
(The featured artwork is detail from a digitally-enhanced portrait by Claude Monet titled Madame Monet Embroidering. It’s available in the public domain along with thousands of other works of art.)