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Inviting the Soul to Show Up — in Montana

“There are few places created that invite the soul to show up. Cathy Barker is working to change that,” says retired counselor Catherine Metsch.

In the comfortable Fireside Room of Plymouth Church, a diverse collection of people gather, full of curiosity, for an introductory session of Geography of Grace. Some have met Cathy Barker through Plymouth Church, where she is Co-Pastor (retiring Dec. 31), or Frontier Hospice, where she is a Chaplain. A few have been encouraged by friends to show up. Yet most have been intrigued by a small article on the Church Page of the Helena IR, and and have come to check it out.

Each season since spring of 2013, Cathy Barker has offered this unique learning opportunity called “Geography of Grace.” Poetry, essays and images spark the imagination; then through journaling, sharing, and listening, participants explore the geography without and within, and discover Grace.

“I delight in leading Geography of Grace,” says Barker. “I love being a midwife to transformation.”

Learn more about the Geography of Grace program from the Center for Courage  & Renewal, where Cathy learned how to bring this curriculum to her local community.

NOTE: This article first appeared in the Helena Independent Record, Helena, MT. It is reprinted here with permission.

Based on the work of Parker Palmer, the 12-session series uses his list of  Touchstones to guide the group’s time together, creating a safe space for the soul.

“In this culture,” Palmer writes, “we know how to create spaces that invite the intellect to show up, to argue its case, to make its point. We know how to create spaces that invite the emotions to show up, to express anger or joy. We know how to create spaces that invite the will to show up, to consolidate effort and energy around a common task. And we certainly know how to create spaces that invite the ego to show up, preening itself and claiming its turf! But we seem to know very little about creating spaces that invite the soul to show up, this core of ourselves, our selfhood.”

Many of the people at the Introduction wrinkle their noses when poetry is mentioned.

“I understand,” Barker assures them. “I used to feel totally stupid around poetry. But Parker Palmer has discovered that by using a ‘third thing’ like poetry, essay, or image, we can more easily access the shy soul. That helped me to feel better, like I didn’t have to analyze a poem, just let the metaphors wash over me and see what happens.”

The weekly themes of geography resonate well with Montanans. “Mountain Edges,” “Forest Community,” “Marshlands: Soul Kitchens” and others provide easy metaphors for reflection.

“I love the open spaces outside. … I need to show the inner spaces the same love, awe, and wonder,” wrote Gloria Soja of the series.

Following the opening essay or the poem, journal prompts are passed around and each person follows his or her heart in writing or drawing. Some in the circle are veterans at journaling; others scare up a few sheets of paper, breathe deeply, and give it a try. One recent participant, Sandy Harris, was in the latter group; at the end of the series she noted, “I think journaling reveals my inner voice — or clarifies it by focusing.”

One of the Touchstones is: “Everything is by invitation, not demand.” Participants have the opportunity to share insights from their writing, either in the whole circle or with one or two others. No one is ever required to share. What is required is confidentiality.

At the first session of the series, Vista Points, Barker begins teaching the discipline of asking Honest and Open Questions. Again based on Parker Palmer’s work, particularly found in his book A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life, this distinctive form of communication honors the fact that each person has an inner teacher. Some call it the soul, or the Divine within. Palmer asserts that the inner teacher holds great wisdom and experience, but most of us lack skills in accessing it. He designed the question process to make that possible.

As the group members improve their skills in asking Honest and Open Questions of each other, remarkable moments occur. Deep, respectful listening and nonmanipulative questions make a safe space for the soul, and insights can flow. For some the growth is sudden, for others slow and steady. Such moments of grace are named and celebrated. Reflecting on the session entitled “Water and Release,” Gloria Soja noted, “It struck me how Grace, like water, seeps into even the hardest of hearts and creates room for growth.”

Each Geography of Grace series includes a weekend retreat, usually at a camp or retreat center. The schedule includes casual time for conversation, hiking, reading, or resting in addition to three of the sessions. The retreat refreshes the soul and body in distinctive ways and further bonds the group members.

Here’s a video of Cathy at Geography of Grace: A Courage & Renewal Alumni Institute. To explore how you can bring the Circle of Trust approach home to your faith community, register here for our next institute April 13-16, 2015 in Santa Barbara, CA.

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Selma and The Heart’s Alchemy: People Can Change

Here in the U.S. today is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, so we’d like to celebrate with a story about the Civil Rights Movement era. The following passage is from the new introduction to Parker J. Palmer’s Healing the Heart of Democracy. It’s a story about the pilgrimage to Selma, faith in humanity, and the courage to forgive.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

In March 2011, shortly after I sent the final draft of this book to the publisher, I had an experience that brought to life much of what I had written about. I participated in the annual three-day Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage sponsored by the Faith & Politics Institute in Washington, D.C., and led by Congressman John Lewis. The pilgrimage began in Birmingham, Alabama, moved on to Montgomery, and ended in Selma, where we marked the forty-sixth anniversary of Bloody Sunday, a pivotal event in American political history.

On Sunday, March 7, 1965, six hundred nonviolent protesters, many of them young, gathered at the foot of Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge to begin a fifty-mile march to the Alabama State Capital in Montgomery, a protest against the ongoing exclusion of African Americans from the electoral process.

edmundpettusbridge-1965When they reached the other side of the bridge, the marchers were brutalized by state and local police, mounted and on foot, with billy clubs and tear gas. This atrocity, witnessed on television by millions of Americans, scandalized the nation. It also generated enough political momentum in Congress that President Lyndon Johnson was able to sign a Voting Rights Act into law five months after the march.

The 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge was led by John Lewis, then twenty-five years old and chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. As leader, he was one of the first to be beaten by the police, who fractured his skull and left marks he bears to this day.

It left another kind of mark on me in March 2011 to follow the seventy-one-year-old John Lewis–U.S. Representative from Georgia’s 5th Congressional District since 1987, and winner of the Presidential Medal of Freedom–across the bridge where forty-six years earlier he had led others in a courageous exercise of people power.

John Lewis

During the three days of the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, I was reminded time and again of themes that are key to this book:

  • the centrality of the “habits of the heart” that we develop in the local venues of our lives;
  • the patience it takes to stay engaged in small, often invisible ways with the American experiment in democracy;
  • the importance of faithfully holding the tension between what is and what might be, and
  • creating the kind of tension that might arouse “the better angels of our nature.”

The twenty-five-year-old John Lewis and his age-mates in the Civil Rights movement were the descendants of generations of people who had suffered the worst America has to offer, but had not given up on the vision of freedom, justice, and equality that represents this county at its best. Those people nurtured that vision in their children and grandchildren at home, in the neighborhood, in classrooms, and especially in churches, creating a steady multi-generational stream of “underground” activity that was largely invisible to white Americans until it rose up to claim our attention in the 1950s and 1960s.

With the exception of such places as the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and the Rosa Parks Library and Museum, every stop we made on the Congressional Civil Rights Pilgrimage was at a church–the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, and the Brown Chapel A.M.E. Church in Selma–where we heard sermons, sang songs, and felt history.

Through study, practice, and prayer, civil rights activists had prepared for action in places like these. And when those actions brought the wrath of the politicians and police down upon their heads, the activists returned to these places to heal, regroup, and act again.

The few white Americans who were aware of the black church prior to the Civil Rights movement generally discounted its political relevance. As a boy growing up in an affluent white suburb of Chicago in the 1940s and 1950s, I remember being told by a white clergyperson that African American religion was all about “pie in the sky when you die by-and-by,” a phrase used by capitalists who were unconsciously and ironically parroting Marx’s notion of “religion as the opiate of the people.”

“Pie-in-the-sky” was a racist, dismissive, and profoundly ignorant characterization of the role of the black churches in the United States. In fact, these churches birthed a form of social activism that eventually transformed the lay and the law of the land. Like the tiny church I wrote about in Chapter II of this book, these churches had long been helping oppressed people develop habits of the heart that empowered them to become participants in the democratic process.

At the end of the Pilgrimage, after we had marched across the bridge, we boarded a bus to take us to the Montgomery Airport for the flight home.

By happenstance, I sat just behind John Lewis and one of his staffers where I overheard Lewis telling a story.

In 1961, he and a friend were at a bus station in Rock Hill, South Carolina, when several young white men attacked and beat them bloody with baseball bats. Lewis and his friend “did not fight back, and they declined to press charges.” They simply treated their wounds and went on with their Civil Rights work.

In 2009, forty-eight years after this event, a white man about John Lewis’s age walked into his office on Capitol Hill, accompanied by his middle-aged son. “Mr. Lewis,” he said, “my name is Elwin Wilson. I’m one of the men who beat you in that bus station back in 1961. I want to atone for the terrible thing I did, so I’ve come to seek your forgiveness. Will you forgive me?”

John_lewis_official_biopicLewis said, “I forgave him, we embraced, he and his son and I wept, and then we talked.”

As Lewis came to the end of this remarkable and moving story, he leaned back in his seat on the bus. He gazed out the window for a while as we passed through a countryside that was once a killing ground for the Ku Klux Klan, of which Elwin Wilson had been a member.

Then, in a very soft voice–as if speaking to himself about the story he had just told and all of the memories that must have been moving in him–Lewis said, “People can change . . . People can change . . .”

At that moment, I felt as if I had seen deep into the soul of a true “healer of the heart of democracy.” I saw the faith in our shared humanity that has kept John Lewis on the march for all these years, despite the abundant evidence that we are capable of being unloving, untruthful, and unjust.

I thought of this good man again on June 25, 2013, when the Supreme Court struck down a key section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that Lewis had helped make possible with his own blood, sweat, and tears.

As I say in the Prelude to this book, “The democratic experiment is endless, unless we blow up the lab, and the explosives to do the job are found within us. But so also is the heart’s alchemy that can turn suffering into community, conflict into the energy of creativity, and tension into an opening toward the common good.”

When I heard John Lewis say, “People can change… People can change…,” I felt a sense of hope, not simply for “them” but for me.

The belief that change is possible–personal as well as social change–can keep us engaged with this endless experiment for the long haul, doing whatever we can to help democracy not only survive but thrive.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Healing the Heart of Democracy: Now available in paperbackThe new paperback edition of Healing the Heart of Democracy, released August 25th, 2014, includes two new features:

(1) a chapter-length Introduction with Parker’s latest thoughts, from which the story above is taken;

(2) a detailed Discussion Guide with links to videos related to key topics in the book.

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Empathy, Burnout, and a New Kind of Work

Karla McLarenIn my work as a consultant, I help people identify the behaviors they’re expected to display in the workplace – often without fully realizing that these behaviors constitute actual work. In many cases, this behavioral work isn’t openly acknowledged (which usually means that it isn’t properly supported), and as a result, people can burn out at their jobs without being able to clearly identify what kind of work they’re actually doing.

Understanding emotion work

In her excellent 1983 book, The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling, sociologist Arlie Hochschild described what she termed emotional labor, or the way that our emotions and emotional states are a part of what we offer (and what is expected from us) in the workplace. Hochschild gives examples of flight attendants, who must not only understand the intricacies of their physical work on airplanes, but must also display an open, calm, and welcoming emotional demeanor to passengers.

Even when passengers are bad-tempered or needy, part of the work of a flight attendant is to always present a calm, helpful, and accepting demeanor, no matter what. These emotional expectations are not often stated explicitly in airline job descriptions, yet they’re a fundamental part of what we’ve all learned to expect (and even demand) from flight attendants. This is an example of a flight attendant’s emotional labor.

emotionwork-pullquoteThis concept really helps us look at the often unwritten emotional rules and behaviors that are expected from us in the workplace – at how we must manage our own emotions and the emotions of others in order to get our work done. For instance, if airline passengers are rude, a good flight attendant won’t generally snap at them or ignore their requests – as he might if his friends or family treated him rudely. In fact, his normal human reactions would be frowned upon by the airline; therefore, part of his job description (stated or not) is to deal with rudeness and bad behavior in unusual or even counter-productive (to him) ways.

This emotional labor – this emotion work – is actually, in many cases, enforced empathizing. It’s a part of our social contract with each other, and though it’s not usually spoken of explicitly as a job skill (or written explicitly in a job description), our capacities for emotion work and professionalized empathy are possibly the most important job skills we possess.

The crucial work of emotion work

Your capacity for healthy and perceptive emotion work is what makes your relationships flow smoothly; it’s what helps you relate to and support others, and it’s what helps you mature as an emotional, social, and empathic person. However, emotion work is work, and if you’re not aware of how much emotion work you do (or how much you expect others to do for you) then burnout – empathic burnout – is a very real possibility.

To get a clearer handle on your own emotion workload, it can help to look not just at yourself, but at the people around you. Pay attention to the emotion work of the people who serve you, and of the people you serve. You probably have very specific (yet unspoken) emotion-work rules for the owners and employees of businesses you visit (especially restaurants and retail outlets), even if you’ve never set eyes on anyone in the business before.

As you observe these people, ask yourself: Can these people openly display a full range of emotions, or do they have to constantly manage their emotions in order to serve you? Can they display anger or fear? Can they be sad or anxious? Or do they have to be calm and display happiness at all times?

Now observe yourself: In your own work, can you display a full range of emotions, or are you constrained to just a few? What kind of work are you doing to manage your emotions? You may find that you have very specific emotion-work expectations for yourself, for your co-workers, for your employees and contractors, and for your managers or bosses.

We all have very specific (and nearly always unspoken) emotion work rules for ourselves and everyone around us – yet we don’t talk about this work. A great deal of the trouble I see in the workplace revolves around emotion work that is either not being performed (the problem employee), or is being performed but not valued or supported (the put-upon, or heading-for-burnout employee). The workplace can become really miserable when there is trouble in the sphere of emotion work.

Creating an emotionally well-regulated workplace

There is a saying that “People don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers,” because the fact is that very few people leave jobs because their daily tasks were too hard; instead, they often leave because the emotional environment was not managed effectively – and because they were doing far too much unsupported emotion work.

There is a saying that “People don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers.”

You can do something about this. You can become aware of the emotion work you do, and of the emotion work you expect from others – and in so doing, you can create a more supportive emotional environment for everyone. These three suggestions are a great way to start:

1) Identify any unsupported emotion work and acknowledge it openly

Observe the emotion-work requirements at your workplace. What emotions are required in interactions with customers, suppliers, and co-workers? Is empathy toward customers required but unacknowledged? What emotion rules are active, and for whom?

2) Identify and acknowledge any emotional inequality

Are the emotion rules different at different levels of the organization? Can one person or group display (for instance) anger, depression, or anxiety, while everyone else must display only happiness and complacency? To the extent that you can, acknowledge this openly.

3) Welcome open conversations about emotion work

Burnout occurs when people aren’t allowed to identify or speak about their emotion work. You can help to create a healthier and more emotionally well-regulated workplace if you can simply speak openly and honestly about emotion work.

In my consulting work, I’ve found that being honest and open about emotion work is a nearly magical way to make a workplace more healthy, inviting, and efficient. Forget artificial team-building games and this month’s hot new management tricks; if you can talk about emotion work openly, your employees and colleagues will be able to build an effective workplace on their own.

~~ Excerpted with permission from The Art of Empathy by Karla McLaren (Sounds True, 2013).

Karla McLaren, M. Ed., is an award-winning author, social science researcher, and pioneering educator whose groundbreaking approach to emotions and empathy revalues even the most “negative” emotions and opens startling new pathways to effective communication and competence. Karla is the author of The Art of Empathy: A Complete Guide to Life’s Most Essential Skill (2013) the pioneering book The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings Are Trying to Tell You (2010), and the interactive online course Emotional Flow (2012). Her website is KarlaMcLaren.com.

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Anyone Can Sing

I have trouble with the title of this poem, “Anyone Can Sing.” You see, in junior high school choir my teacher once approached me during a song we were preparing for a concert, tapped me on the shoulder and told me to “just mouth the words.”

Yet I am also drawn to the title of this poem because it names something that’s true for me. My choir teacher may have embarrassed me, but he couldn’t silence me. It’s true that I rarely lead others in song, but I continue to sing along to this day.

I love the power of song to touch the bittersweet paradoxes of being human. And I love the call to give voice to what is most important and most poignant in our lives and in our leadership, knowing that when we do so, we invite others to join in.

 

Anyone Can Sing

Anyone can sing. You just open your mouth,
and give shape to a sound. Anyone can sing.
songbird-012015What is harder, is to proclaim the soul,
to initiate a wild and necessary deepening:
to give the voice broad, sonorous wings
of solitude, grief, and celebration,
to fill the body with the echoes of voices
lost long ago to bravery, and silence,
to prise the reluctant heart wide open,
to witness defeat, to suffer contempt,
to shrink, lose face, go down in ignominy,
to retreat to the last dark hiding-place
where the tattered remnants of your pride
still gather themselves around your nakedness,
to know these rags as your only protection
and yet still open – to face the possibility
that your innermost core may hold nothing at all,
and to sing from that – to fill the void
with every hurt, every harm, every hard-won joy
that staves off death yet honours its coming,
to sing both full and utterly empty,
alone and conjoined, exiled and at home,
to sing what people feel most keenly
yet never acknowledge until you sing it.
Anyone can sing. Yes. Anyone can sing.

- William Ayot

To what will you give voice in 2015?

Warm regards,

Terry Chadsey
Executive Director

P.S. You can discover the power of your voice and agency at a Courage & Renewal program.

Today’s blog is a mirror of our monthly Words of EnCOURAGEment e-newsletter. If you’re not a subscriber yet, sign up so you don’t miss anything!

 

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To Hear the Sound of the Genuine Within Us

"quote-L There is something in every one of you that waits, listens for the genuine in yourself—and if you can not hear it, you will never find whatever it is for which you are searching and if you hear it and then do not follow it, it was better that you had never been born. You are the only you that has ever lived; your idiom is the only idiom of its kind in all the existences, and if you cannot hear the sound of the genuine in you, you will all of your life spend your days on the ends of strings that somebody else pulls. 

Based on excerpts from Dr. Howard Thurman’s Baccalaureate Address at Spelman College, May 4, 1980, as edited by Jo Moore Stewart for The Spelman Messenger Vol. 96 No. 4 (Summer 1980), 14-15.

Atlanta Young Leaders GroupParticipants of the 2014 Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists

On the afternoon of December 11, 2014, only weeks before the beginning of this new year and amid the backdrop of anguish and activism in our country, 32 young leaders and 5 Courage & Renewal facilitators gathered outside of Atlanta, GA for Courage to Lead for Young Leaders and Activists retreat. We came from various parts of North America from a wide range of sectors including: education, healthcare, food justice, ministry, social entrepreneurship, law, and nonprofits. Together we would create a Circle of Trust where each one of us was invited to listen for what Howard Thurman calls the sound of the genuine in ourselves and to be present to the sound of the genuine in each other.

Just hours before the start of the retreat, Marcy Jackson, Stephen Lewis, Parker Palmer, Matthew Williams and I shared a smaller circle, acknowledging how our own hearts were holding both grief and hope and the ways we, too, were wrestling with our own difficult and demanding questions. And also we acknowledged, to paraphrase a poem by Wendell Berry, that what we needed was here.

And so it was.

We were together for just under 48 hours—barely two full days—but long enough, in the words of one participant, to create “a countercultural space where all are invited and welcome to be their most authentic self . . . [to take] a journey into the heart in order to understand its complexity, simplicity, its most current condition . . . [to experience] a time for renewal, reconnecting with the self that is courageous, confident, and whole.”

For many, our time together introduced principles and practices that allow something essential, but often elusive, to emerge. As one young leader said: “After months of trying to connect with my true self in the margins of my life, the retreat offered a container and a community to have a deep, honest and heartfelt conversation with my self which has awakened in me a renewed sense of wholeness and strength.”

Perhaps there has never been a time when generative spaces between and among people have been more necessary or when our world has held a greater need for people to lead from within. For my own part, I left our time together filled with a tenacious hope that as we keep straining against the many forms of injustice in the world, change will come. A deep source of the wisdom and energy needed to shape a different future is held in the hearts and souls of young leaders like the ones who formed our circle.

And there is more. As we shared expressions of gratitude with one another in closing, these vibrant and innovative leaders and activists offered encouragements which came to me as a clarion call for the Center for Courage & Renewal and its worldwide network of facilitators: “There is elegance here that is so brilliant. Be wary of its preservation. Continue to create spaces like this that so beautifully coax forth the soul. Continue to offer this sacred space, for all who find it surely need it.” Or more simply, “Convene. Convene. Convene.”

Another participant put it this way, “To empower young people to mine their own wisdom rather than searching the wisdom of others is a profound contribution to the field of leadership development. And yet! Yet the process itself is shrouded in the wisdom of our elders.”

Truly, we are all in this together.


kathryn_mcelveenKathryn McElveen is the President of inVision Ventures, a company specializing in leadership coaching, facilitation and collaborative program design. After more than a decade working in education and community-based nonprofits, Kathryn discovered a passion for helping leaders join “soul” and “role” for personal, organizational and cultural transformation. She especially appreciates working with diverse groups whose different backgrounds, experiences and world views enrich and inspire mutual formation.

Join Kathryn McElveen’s upcoming Courage & Renewal program: 

Courage to Lead for Young United Methodist Ministers: A 6-month Leadership Intensive for Faith Leaders to Renew, Reflect, and Reconnect
Spring – Fall 2015
in Atlanta, Colorado Springs, and Milwaukee  |  Learn about the program >>

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Five Questions for Crossing the Threshold

This “New Year” thing is a curious fiction, isn’t it? The planet on which we’ve hitched a ride has been wheeling through space a lot longer than 2,014 years. And the hoopla we make at midnight on December 31st is a tad over the top for one more tick of the clock.

But this annual ritual allows us to imagine that maybe, just maybe, we’re on the threshold of something new and better — and some of our imaginings might come true, depending on what we do…

READ THE FULL ARTICLE AT ON BEING >>

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Happy Holidays!

During this time of holidays, enjoy this lovely song, Abide, sung by a dear friend of ours, Carrie Newcomer with lyrics written by Carrie and Parker J. Palmer.

Abide
Sometimes the finest gift we can give one
another is true presence.

I will bring a cup of water,
Here’s the best that I can offer,
In the dusk of coming night,
There is evidence of the light,
With the pattering of rain,
Let us bow as if in grace,
Consider all the ways we heal,
And how a heart can break.

Chorus:
Oh Abide with me,
Where it’s breathless and its empty.
Yes abide with me,
And we’ll pass the evening gently.
Stay awake with me,
And we’ll listen more intently,
To something wordless and remaining,
Sure and ever changing,
In the quietness of now.

Let us ponder the unknown,
What is hidden and what’s whole,
And finally learn to travel,
At the speed of our own souls.
There is a living water,
A spirit cutting through,
Always changing, always making,
All things new.

Chorus

There are things I cannot prove,
And still some how I know,
It’s like a message in a bottle,
that some unseen hand has thrown.
You don’t have to be afraid,
You don’t have to walk alone,
I don’t know but I suspect,
That it will feel like home.

Chorus

Music Carrie Newcomer
Lyrics Parker J. Palmer and Carrie Newcomer

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Darkness Cover Me, a winter song by Sara Thomsen

Darkness Cover Me

Darkness Cover Me
like a blanket of night
Oh, cover me lightly

Shadows gather around me
Deepening darkness,
Whispering softly

Holy Maker of Moonlight
Singing through starlight
Keeper of all life

Hidden Seed deep in the dark soil of the earth
Fertile Ground, Womb of the Night, bring us new birth

© 1999 Sara Thomsen

Sara Thomsen is a gifted singer-songwriter whose “soulful voice, poetic lyrics and unforgettable melodies cut through to the heart and soul of human experience,” proclaims the Minnesota Women’s Press.

Paula Pedersen, a Courage & Renewal facilitator in preparation, shared this song with us, writing, “This song has helped me through my own times of darkness – the image of my own hidden seed (even wholeness) and the promise of new birth.”

Thank you Paula for the gift of this exquisite soundtrack to our winter solstice day.

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I Want to Live Fierce with Reality and Lead from My Self

Nick RossMy work with leaders takes me all over the world and puts me in the company of men and women with tremendous responsibilities in the world of business. I work with major corporations at very senior levels, providing educational programmes; workshops and retreats, around themes of self-development.

At first blush it’s a stark contrast to my ‘first career’, which involved working with addictions, homelessness, social disadvantage and the UK prison system.  I say ‘at first blush’ because as the years have gone by I’ve come to notice how much of life is a deeply shared experience. I meet as much addiction and as much confusion in a corporate meeting as I ever did in a homeless shelter. The suffering is acute wherever soul and self are divided.

There are thousands of books written about leadership every year; it’s not news to say that leadership is big business. There are so many definitions that try to speak to what leadership actually is, but it’s difficult to define since it’s clearly not one thing. Leadership shifts with the identity and integrity of the leader. A Hidden Wholeness, when I first read it, gave me some clues around the subject that felt honest, true and real to me and are now foundational to my work.

My work is not about helping leaders develop new techniques or clever methods to be more productive, get results or become more efficient or effective. Maybe that will happen as a byproduct of our time together, but it’s not the root of the work. For the folks I work with, the greatest concerns are in the tension they feel day to day between the life within and the life around them.

In an increasingly volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, many of the people I work with feel anxious, vulnerable and overwhelmed. Overwhelm in fact is probably the biggest private concern that executives share, along with fear and the behaviours that they adopt to try to keep things together.

When I traveled to San Francisco for my first retreat I was looking for a programme that I could apply in my work. But when I immersed myself into the depths of the work itself, I realized that the work is really about me. As the soul speaks so things start to change.

I asked myself: How does this apply to the way I actually live my life, the sense of integrity or division I actually feel? What does it mean to ‘let me life speak’, to allow my vulnerability to open me, even break me towards the one gift I really have to offer which is my self-hood, my wholeness? These are the questions I am still sitting with and living into today.

"quote-L You need only claim the events of your life to make them yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, you are fierce with reality.

—Florida Scott Maxwell

I remember reading a quote somewhere by Florida Scott Maxwell: “You need only claim the events of your life to make them yours. When you truly possess all you have been and done, you are fierce with reality.”

What I have come to know is that I want to live fierce with reality—that this is my birthright. And such an undertaking requires, as T.S. Eliot put it, “nothing less than everything.” It helps me as a facilitator, as a son, as a friend, but it’s most essential because it gives me ground to stand on as I am.

There is a tremendous difference between using the work (any work) for the benefit of others, and actually embracing the work itself, owning it. A poem that speaks to me deeply around this is called ‘The little ways that encourage good fortune, by William Stafford.

Wisdom is having things right in your life
and knowing why.
If you do not have things right in your life
you will be overwhelmed:
you may be heroic, but you will not be wise.
If you have things right in your life
but do not know why,
you are just lucky, and you will not move
in the little ways that encourage good fortune.

The saddest are those not right in their lives
who are acting to make things right for others:
they act only from the self–
and that self will never be right:
no luck, no help, no wisdom.

I am starting to appreciate what Stafford was saying. Wisdom is having things right in your life and knowing why. Not nice in your life, not happy or good even, but right.

What does doing courage work mean for me? Well, most of all it has involved coming to terms with aspects of my own life I have not been able to own for a very long time. Specifically, I have begun to find the courage to embrace my own longstanding struggle with depression and the additional suffering caused through the many means of self-medication I deployed for decades to keep the pain out and the show on the road.

I see now what I could not see before and that is perhaps the greatest gift of all in circle of trust. I feel vulnerable to my truth in a new way, but strangely, that vulnerability has not crossed a line into shame, which had been a long familiar companion to me in my life; familiar, stifling and distressing.

"quote-L Wisdom is having things right in your life and knowing why.

—William Stafford

Today, more and more, I find that I lead who I am, I teach who I am, I befriend and coach and am the son and father and partner as who I am. I am learning the art of gentle and generous integration. Integration—the act of embracing integrity—I am discovering, takes time; it cannot be rushed or bullied by anyone’s agenda—even my own ego’s. It requires silence and stillness, solitude and friendship.

I notice through my own direct experience that when I feel and allow the current of my life to move through me, when I let self and world meet in a spirit of love, discovery and exploration, that I feel a freedom I have rarely known, that I feel true, honest and real. I am aware at times of a feelinga feeling of faith really, a trustingthat the greatest gift I can offer in any moment is indeed my Self-hood and that this is the pearl of great price.

In that respect to paraphrase a poem by James Autry, my life is becoming my work: We do what we know we must do, we nurture the threads of our lives and respect the lives of those we meet and work with as the most important act of leadershipwe do all this…and business takes care of itself.

Nick Ross is director of A Different Drum, a professional training and coaching business in the United Kingdom.

Discover a Courage & Renewal program for your own leadership in work and life.

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Best Courageous Books of 2014

We’ve had a few requests for book lists, so here are our favorite courageous reads of 2014! Use the index below to see books under each topic (the order is random).

2014 Books for Everyone

sallyhare_book_2014Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do: Stories of Living Divided No More – Quilted together by the Writers Circle of Trust
by Sally Z. Hare and Megan Leboutillier (Eds.) with contributions from Parker J. Palmer
An extraordinary glimpse inside the human journey to live with integrity, with wholeness by 21 diverse people who share their stories with stunning honesty and openness… In his contribution to the book, Parker J. Palmer writes: From the moment I began writing fifty years ago, I’ve known that my ideas wouldn’t matter much if they simply sat there, inert, on the printed page. So I am deeply grateful for people who “put wheels” on those ideas… The contributors to this book have done exactly that. Here they share their stories of what it means to decide to “rejoin soul and role” and live “divided no more…” All of these people are participants in what I have called the “movement model of social change.” … It is the ancient movement to fulfill the human possibility, a movement that’s forever calling us to embody what it means to be truly human.

Healing the Heart of Democracy: Now available in paperbackHealing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit (paperback re-release)
by Parker J. Palmer
In the same compelling, inspiring prose that has made him a bestselling author, Palmer explores five “habits of the heart” that can help us restore democracy’s foundations as we nurture them in ourselves and each other. This 2014 paperback edition includes TWO NEW FEATURES: (1) A chapter-length Introduction in which Palmer explores his political experience since the book first came out in 2011, including a new way to understand “the great divide” in our political life. (2) A detailed Discussion Guide with links to online resources—including 40 brief video interviews with the author—to facilitate more dialogue across political lines of the sort the book has inspired since it was published.

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible
by Charles Eisenstein
In a time of social and ecological crisis, what can we as individuals do to make the world a better place? This inspirational and thought-provoking book serves as an empowering antidote to the cynicism, frustration, paralysis, and overwhelm so many of us are feeling, replacing it with a grounding reminder of what’s true: we are all connected, and our small, personal choices bear unsuspected transformational power. By fully embracing and practicing this principle of interconnectedness—called interbeing—we become more effective agents of change and have a stronger positive influence on the world. With chapters covering separation, interbeing, despair, hope, pain, pleasure, consciousness, and many more, the book invites us to let the old Story of Separation fall away so that we can stand firmly in a Story of Interbeing.

The Endless Practice: Becoming Who You Were Born to Be
by Mark Nepo
Called “one of the finest spiritual guides of our time,” this beloved teacher explores what it means to become our truest self through the ongoing and timeless journey of awakening to the dynamic wholeness of life, which is messy and unpredictable. Nepo navigates some of the soul’s deepest and most ancient questions, such as: What does it mean to inhabit the world? How do we stay vital and buoyant amid the storms of life? What is the secret to coming alive? Nepo affirms that not only is the soul’s journey inevitable, it is essential to our survival. The human journey is how the force of life grows us, and no matter where we go we can’t escape this foundational truth: What’s in the way is the way. As Nepo writes, “The point of experience is not to escape life but to live it.”

On Purpose Before Twenty
by Adam Cox
On Purpose Before Twenty tells a story of youth in which young people want to participate in making the world, discovering their significance and purpose through myriad forms of doing and creating. These non-negotiable needs develop by kindergarten, and are the essence of shaping a purposeful and focused life. Our serious regard for the potential of young people makes the world a more welcoming place. It is as much an essential form of stewardship as protecting forests, and creatures living on the brink of extinction.

Man’s Search for Meaning (gift edition re-release)
by Viktor Frankl
Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl’s memoir of life in Nazi death camps has riveted generations of readers. Based on Frankl’s own experience and the stories of his patients, the book argues that we cannot avoid suffering but we can choose how to cope with it, find meaning in it, and move forward. Man’s Search for Meaning has become one of the most influential books of our times, selling over twelve million copies worldwide. With a foreword by Harold S. Kushner, Frankl’s classic is presented here in an elegant new edition with endpapers, supplementary photographs, and several of Frankl’s previously unpublished letters, speeches, and essays.

The Art of Communicating
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, bestselling author of Peace Is Every Step and one of the most respected and celebrated religious leaders in the world, delivers a powerful path to happiness through mastering life’s most important skill. In this precise and practical guide, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh reveals how to listen mindfully and express your fullest and most authentic self. With examples from his work with couples, families, and international conflicts, The Art of Communicating helps us move beyond the perils and frustrations of misrepresentation and misunderstanding to learn the listening and speaking skills that will forever change how we experience and impact the world.

Developing Cultural Humility: Embracing Race, Privilege and Power
by Miguel E. Gallardo
Developing Cultural Humility offers a unique look into the journeys of psychologists striving towards an integration of multiculturalism in their personal and professional lives.  Contributing authors—representing a mix of “cultural backgrounds” but stereotypically identified as “White”—engage in thoughtful dialogue with psychologists from underrepresented communities who are identified as established and respected individuals within the multicultural field. This text is useful for stimulating discussions about privilege, power, and the impact race has on either bringing people together or creating more distance, whether intentionally or unintentionally. It demonstrates to readers how to engage in the process of examining one’s own “culture” in more intentional ways, and discusses the implications as we move towards engaging in more dialogue around multicultural issues.

The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks
by Jeanne Theoharis
The definitive political biography of Rosa Parks examines her six decades of activism, challenging perceptions of her as an accidental actor in the civil rights movement. Presenting a corrective to the popular notion of Rosa Parks as the quiet seamstress who, with a single act, birthed the modern civil rights movement, Theoharis provides a revealing window into Parks’s politics and years of activism. She shows readers how this civil rights movement radical sought—for more than a half a century—to expose and eradicate the American racial-caste system in jobs, schools, public services, and criminal justice.

Tears of Silence (paperback re-release)
by Jean Vanier, Foreword by Parker J. Palmer, Photographs by Jonathan Boulet-Groulx
Acclaimed as a man “who inspires the world” (Maclean’s) and a “nation builder” (Globe and Mail), Jean Vanier has made a difference in the lives of countless people — including those with disabilities and the many people who have been moved by his life’s work. Rereleased to commemorate the 50th anniversary of L’Arche Internationale, an international network of communities for people with developmental disabilities, Tears of Silence is an inspiring book of poems on the topics of alienation and belonging, featuring intimate, never-before-published black and white photographs from L’Arche communities around the world. This edition includes a new introduction by Jean Vanier and a foreword by author and education activist Parker Palmer.

How the Light Gets In: Writing as a Spiritual Practice
by Pat Schneider
“When I begin to write, I open myself and wait. And when I turn toward an inner spiritual awareness, I open myself and wait.” With that insight, Pat Schneider invites readers to contemplate their lives and deepest questions through writing. In seventeen concise thematic chapters that include meditations on topics such as fear, freedom, tradition in writing and in religions, forgiveness, joy, social justice, and death, How the Light Gets In gracefully guides readers through the artistic and spiritual questions that life offers to everyone.

Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants
by Robin Wall Kimmer
As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer asks questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces indigenous teachings that consider plants and animals to be our oldest teachers. Kimmerer brings these two lenses of knowledge together to take “us on a journey that is every bit as mythic as it is scientific, as sacred as it is historical, as clever as it is wise” (Elizabeth Gilbert). Drawing on her life as an indigenous scientist, a mother, and a woman, Kimmerer shows how other living beings offer us gifts and lessons, even if we’ve forgotten how to hear their voices.

2014 Books of Poetry

teachingwithheartcoverTeaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach
by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner (Eds.) Foreword by Parker J. Palmer, Introduction by Taylor Mali, Afterword by Sarah Brown Wessling
Each and every day teachers show up in their classrooms with a relentless sense of optimism. Despite the complicated challenges of schools, they come to and remain in the profession inspired by a conviction that through education they can move individuals and society to a more promising future. In Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach a diverse group of ninety teachers describe the complex of emotions and experiences of the teaching life — joy, outrage, heartbreak, hope, commitment and dedication. Each heartfelt commentary is paired with a cherished poem selected by the teacher. The contributors represent a broad array of educators: K-12 teachers, principals, superintendents, college professors, as well as many non-traditional teachers. They range from first year teachers to mid-career veterans to those who have retired after decades in the classroom. They come from inner-city, suburban, charter and private schools. The teachers identified an eclectic collection of poems and poets from Emily Dickinson, to Richard Wright, to Mary Oliver to the rapper Tupac Shakur. It is a book by teachers and for all who teach.

A Permeable Life: Poems & Essays
by Carrie Newcomer
A Permeable Life: Poems & Essays is Carrie Newcomer’s first book, and it’s a cause for celebration. For over two decades, Carrie has gathered a legion of fans who know and love her work as a mindful, soulful singer-songwriter. In this book she reveals herself to be a first-class poet and essayist as well, showing us the aquifer of intuition and insight from which her music and lyrics flow. Read this book, and find your heart and mind opening to a more permeable life.” – Parker J. Palmer

Steppingstones
by Judy Brown
These poems are part of an inner dialogue about transitions and turnings, and the lessons the natural world can offer us. In Judy’s leadership work, she invites folks to detail the steppingstones that have brought them to where they are in their work and their life. It is that process from which this collection takes its name: steppingstones. Mark Nepo writes: “Judy Brown’s poems are subtle, like rain on the surface of stillness inviting us to wait for the ripples to clear. In Steppingstones, she explores the solidity of presence and our capacity to hear ourselves within the gift of Nature; so we might better meet this life.”

Blue Horses: Poems
by Mary Oliver
In this stunning collection of new poems, Mary Oliver returns to the imagery that has defined her life’s work, describing with wonder both the everyday and the unaffected beauty of nature. Herons, sparrows, owls, and kingfishers flit across the page in meditations on love, artistry, and impermanence. Whether considering a bird’s nest, the seeming patience of oak trees, or the artworks of Franz Marc, Oliver reminds us of the transformative power of attention and how much can be contained within the smallest moments. At its heart, Blue Horses asks what it means to truly belong to this world, to live in it attuned to all its changes. Humorous, gentle, and always honest, Oliver is a visionary of the natural world.

This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems
by Wendell Berry
For nearly thirty-five years, Wendell Berry has been at work on a series of poems occasioned by his solitary Sunday walks around his farm in Kentucky. From riverfront and meadows, to grass fields and woodlots, every inch of this hillside farm lives in these poems, as do the poet’s constant companions of memory and occasion, family and animals, who have with Berry created his Home Place with love and gratitude. With the publication of this new complete edition, it has become increasingly clear that The Sabbath Poems have become the very heart of Berry’s entire work. And these magnificent poems, taken as a whole, have become one of the greatest contributions ever made to American poetry.

2014 Books for Leaders

laloux-bookcoverReinventing Organizations: A Guide to Creating Organizations Inspired by the Next Stage of Human Consciousness
by Frederic Laloux
In this groundbreaking book, the author shows that every time humanity has shifted to a new stage of consciousness in the past, it has invented a whole new way to structure and run organizations, each time bringing extraordinary breakthroughs in collaboration. A new shift in consciousness is currently underway. Could it help us invent a radically more soulful and purposeful way to run our businesses and nonprofits, schools and hospitals? The pioneering organizations researched for this book have already “cracked the code.” It’s hard not to get excited about this finding: a new organizational model seems to be emerging, and it promises a soulful revolution in the workplace.

Flourishing Enterprise: The New Spirit of Business
by Chris Laszlo and Judy Sorum Brown, with John R. Ehrenfeld, Mary Gorham, Ilma Barros Pose, Linda Robson, Roger Saillant, Dave Sherman, and Paul Werder
Drawing together decades of research along with in-depth interviews, Flourishing Enterprise argues that strategic, organizational, and operational efforts to be sustainable reach the potential of flourishing when they incorporate one additional ingredient: reflective practices. Offering more than a dozen such practices, this book leads readers down a path to greater business success, personal well-being, and a healthier planet.

Authentic Leadership: Clashes, Convergences, and Coalescences
by Donna Ladkin and Chellie Spiller (Eds.)
The majority of authentic leadership literature focuses on the individual leader. However, the authors in this volume expertly focus on the premise that leadership is a relational phenomenon and not something that can be distilled down to the actions of one leader, be they authentic or not. What is authentic leadership? Does it require a leader to express his or her true self even if that true self is less than ‘wonderful’? How do followers know the difference between real and fake leaders anyway? What happens when cultural expectations of what constitutes authenticity clash? Can a leader be ‘authentic’ within virtual contexts? International scholars and practitioners from the fields of philosophy, sociology, psychology, leadership, business and the arts address these and other provocative questions, often with surprising results, in this cutting-edge update of the theory and practice of authentic leadership.

The Systems View of Life: A Unifying Vision
by Professor Fritjof Capra and Pier Luigi Luisi
Over the past thirty years, a new systemic conception of life has emerged at the forefront of science. New emphasis has been given to complexity, networks, and patterns of organisation leading to a novel kind of ‘systemic’ thinking. This volume integrates the ideas, models, and theories underlying the systems view of life into a single coherent framework. Taking a broad sweep through history and across scientific disciplines, the authors examine the appearance of key concepts such as autopoiesis, dissipative structures, social networks, and a systemic understanding of evolution. The implications of the systems view of life for health care, management, and our global ecological and economic crises are also discussed. Written primarily for undergraduates, it is also essential reading for graduate students and researchers interested in understanding the new systemic conception of life and its implications for a broad range of professions – from economics and politics to medicine, psychology and law.

2014 Books for Educators

teachingwithheartcoverTeaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach
by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner (Eds.) Foreword by Parker J. Palmer, Introduction by Taylor Mali, Afterword by Sarah Brown Wessling
Each and every day teachers show up in their classrooms with a relentless sense of optimism. Despite the complicated challenges of schools, they come to and remain in the profession inspired by a conviction that through education they can move individuals and society to a more promising future. In Teaching with Heart: Poetry that Speaks to the Courage to Teach a diverse group of ninety teachers describe the complex of emotions and experiences of the teaching life — joy, outrage, heartbreak, hope, commitment and dedication. Each heartfelt commentary is paired with a cherished poem selected by the teacher. The contributors represent a broad array of educators: K-12 teachers, principals, superintendents, college professors, as well as many non-traditional teachers. They range from first year teachers to mid-career veterans to those who have retired after decades in the classroom. They come from inner-city, suburban, charter and private schools. The teachers identified an eclectic collection of poems and poets from Emily Dickinson, to Richard Wright, to Mary Oliver to the rapper Tupac Shakur. It is a book by teachers and for all who teach.

The Mindful School Leader: Practices to Transform Your Leadership and School
by Valerie L. Brown and Kirsten L. Olson
For educational leaders who feel overwhelmed, stressed, and exhausted, this book offers explicit practices to help readers avoid burnout and become the mindful, poised, effective leaders they were meant to be. The book also offers real-time encouragement with portraits of educational leaders who are incorporating mindfulness practices, like attentive breathing, mindful walking about the school building, or calming pauses in the office throughout the school day into their leadership portfolios and everyday lives. Chapters present a brief overview of school culture and climate, research that describes the effectiveness of mindfulness practices, and helpful tips for incorporating mindfulness in daily life.

chip-wood_teaching_for_equityTeaching for Equity
by Linda Crawford and Chip Wood
Teaching for Equity returns teaching and learning to the primary relationships between the teacher and student, student and student, school and family. The book outlines an array of applicable practices to help you personalize students’ learning. Parker J. Palmer says in his review, “Here’s a vital book on a critical topic by two of our wisest, most experienced and devoted educators. New standards and more testing will not cure education’s ills. But by building “relational trust,” teachers, leaders, students, and families can return our schools to full health. This book is just what the doctor ordered.”

2014 Book for Health Care Professionals

Rehumanizing Medicine. Pre-order at Amazon.Re-humanizing Medicine: A Holistic Framework for Transforming Your Self, Your Practice, and the Culture of Medicine
by David R. Kopacz
Physicians and professionals train extensively to relieve suffering. Yet the systems they train and practice in create suffering for both themselves and their clients through the neglect of basic human needs. True healthcare reform requires addressing dehumanization in medicine by caring for the whole person. Re-humanizing Medicine provides a holistic framework to support human connection and the expression of full human being of doctors, professionals and patients.

The Ecology of Wellness for Nurses: A Personal and Professional Resource
by Sharon Olson
The Ecology of Wellness for Nurses encourages compassion, courage, and self care for nurses of both genders and all levels of experience, from nursing students to skilled R.N.s. Sharon’s comprehensive ecological wellness model speaks to readers with meaningful insights and compelling encouragement for making positive changes in their lives—changes that can help spark a much0needed renaissance in nursing and in the hearts of those who choose, or have chosen, to be nurses.

2014 Books for People of Faith

Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith
by Erin S. Lane and Enuma C. Okoro (Eds.) Foreword by Andrew Marin
The latest book in the I Speak For Myself series addresses the experiences of faith, gender, and identity that remain taboo for American Christian Women Under 40. Is it our desire to remain childless in a Catholic tradition that largely defines women by their ability to reproduce? Is it our struggle with pornography in an evangelical subculture that addresses it only as the temptation of unsatisfied men? From masturbation, miscarriage, and menstruation to ordination, co-habitation, and immigration, this collection of essays explores the most provocative topics of faith left largely unspoken in 21st century American faith life.

How Do You Pray?: Inspiring Responses from Religious Leaders, Spiritual Guides, Healers, Activists and Other Lovers of Humanity
by Celeste Yacoboni (Ed.), Foreword by Mirabai Starr
How Do You Pray? was born from a vision in which Celeste Yacoboni was told to ask the world, “How Do You Pray?” She reached out to leading spiritual, shamanic, scientific teachers, guides, and activists and asked for their response. Culled from those responses is an original and deeply personal collection of essays. Talking intimately and candidly about how they pray, these personalities encourage the reader to contemplate the intention of prayer in their own life. This collection speaks to the reader’s heart and asks What is your soul’s expression? How do you dance in ecstasy, bare your soul to the divine? Bow in gratitude? Merge with nature? Cry out for guidance? How do you pray?

The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing
by Daniel P. Horan
Millions of Christians and non-Christians look to Thomas Merton for spiritual wisdom and guidance, but to whom did Merton look? In The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton, Franciscan friar and author Daniel Horan shows how, both before and after he became a Trappist monk, Merton’s life was shaped by his love for St. Francis and for the Franciscan spiritual and intellectual tradition. Given recent renewed interest in St. Francis, this timely resource is both informative and practical, revealing a previously hidden side of Merton that will inspire a new generation of Christians to live richer, deeper, and more justice-minded lives of faith.

From Enemy to Friend: Jewish Wisdom and the Pursuit of Peace
by Amy Eilberg
“A pioneer in the work of Jewish chaplaincy, healing and spiritual direction, Eilberg has spent the last seven years stretching her heart and mind to answer the call of peace building in our world. In this much anticipated book, she inspires and defines yet another new field, inviting Jews to join her on the spiritual adventure of the twenty-first century: encountering the “other” with curiosity and compassion. Digging deeply into her knowledge of Jewish text and tradition, Rabbi Eilberg gently but firmly shows us what it might mean to become rodfei shalom–pursuers of peace. I cannot imagine a more important journey, nor could I hope for a wiser guide.” —Rabbi Nancy Fuchs Kreimer

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