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The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity, and Caring

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  296 Ratings  ·  25 Reviews
The Active Life is Parker J. Palmer's deep and graceful exploration of a spirituality for the busy, sometimes frenetic lives many of us lead. Telling evocative stories from a variety of religious traditions, including Taoist, Jewish, and Christian, Palmer shows that the spiritual life does not mean abandoning the world but engaging it more deeply through life-giving action ...more
Paperback, 176 pages
Published August 11th 1999 by Jossey-Bass (first published 1990)
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Ben Tipper
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was ok
A somewhat eclectic mix of Palmer’s own beliefs and samples from various spiritual sources. Didn’t love it at first, but it grew on me a little. What he advocates: Quality of work, dropping of ego and outcome dependence, are both good things, although he seems to go about it in a somewhat disjointed way. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this book, and I wouldn’t say don’t read it. But I think there are other books out there which express his same ideas in a much more compelling and fluid man ...more
Palmer posits that contemplation is connecting with reality and proper action must flow from and be true to that reality – the reality of who are, how the world is organized and the deeper reality of the Kingdom of God. In this way action and contemplation are inseparable. Each story or poem in turn shows the danger of action in conflict with reality or the beauty of action deeply embedded in reality.

Palmer believes that this reality is deep stuff. It is more complicated and varied
Daniel Seifert
Palmer deals with the tension between action and what is missing in many lives, the practice of contemplation. Contemplation is cast as having potential to penetrate through the prominent and delimiting illusions and to disengage from the dominant script(s) that are rooted in anxiety in our world. Hence, Palmer argues, the challenge is to live within the living paradox of action and contemplation. While action refers to any way we co-create reality with others, contemplation refers to the necess ...more
Ann Yeong
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it
What's the difference between the active life and the reactive life? The impetus for action of the active life comes from within, aided by contemplation; and the reactive life is fuelled and shaped from without - through the expectations, needs, demands or fashions of our environment. If we do not wish to live lives of desperation, urgency, and frantic activity that seems to lead nowhere, we will need to learn this distinction, and learn how to live the active life.

In this book, Palmer explores
Apr 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book helped me do a lot of thinking about the balance in my life between action and contemplation and not thinking of them as opposites but complements.

A few of my favorite quotes:

"An expressive act is one that I take not to achieve a goal outside of myself but to express a conviction, a leading, a truth that is within me. An expressive act is one taken because if I did not take it I would be denying my own insight, gift, nature. By taking an expressive act, an act not obsessed with outcom
Margaret Klein
Sep 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
This little book is one I return to again and again. Written by a Quaker, he outlines six stories that illustrate the need for balance between contemplation and active lives. I picked it back up because the last story is a poem written by a woman from Guatemala. "Threatened By Resurrection" gives a new layer of meaning to the Christian concept of resurrection. Not an individual thing but a communal, community idea. I wanted to understand this before I travel to Guatemala. In the process of rerea ...more
Aug 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Why did I let this little gem sit on my shelf for 20-25 years before reading it? I think I was misled by the title's emphasis on action. This book looks at the interplay/paradox between a life of spiritual contemplation and a life of engagement with the world -- a topic Palmer has since explored more specifically for such professionals as educators and politicians. It is thoughtful, deeply insightful, and delicious. It is not a book of easy answers (Parker always eschews "quick fixes"), but rath ...more
Vally Sharpe
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
If you're not into poetry or metaphor or if you are inclined to reject spiritual thought as spoken by someone outside of your own tradition or comfort zone, this will not be the book for you. But if you've noticed that sometimes your attempts to help others fall flat, this little book will poke you and prod you into considering the "rightness" of your actions from a new and definitely sociological perspective.

I have other Palmer books that I re-read on occasion, like The Promise of Paradox and L
Alex Wilson
Dec 28, 2012 rated it liked it
I believe the words were 'narrow-minded religious zealot,' though I might prefer 'nearly as arrogant as he is ignorant' to describe the previous reviewer. He had nothing interesting or useful to say, and thus decided simply to be mean. I feel no need to defend Parker Palmer; I do, however, feel compelled to rebuke said reviewer, and to hope that his angry demons will be exorcised. If only our poor reviewer spent less time judging, and more time reading (and learning)...
Mar 17, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Really focuses attention on the idea of natural gifts, how we can recognize them, and how in seeking a vocation, we should look for when our "deepest joy meets the world's deepest need."
His writing is beautiful, his thinking is substantive, and so although the book is short and very conversational in style, I found I could only read the book a few pages at a time if I really wanted to digest everything that it contained. A truly beautiful book.
Apr 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Active contemplation and contemplative action--it's not just action or contemplation. The way he expands on that concept is challenging and insightful. But I was surprised at his theological conclusions that the feeding of the 5,000 was actually a big sack lunch feast and that God isn't all-knowing or all-powerful. I have some major disagreements with that, but the book is well written and worth a read.
Read as much as I could, and had to return it to the library. Will buy my own copy. ~ There's truly original thinking here ... and because of a recent (fortunately mild!) brain injury, I can't remember a thing about the book ... only that I will read it in full, and act on its wisdom. My best friend was with me when I returned the book to the library ... She took it out on her own card right away! I hope she 'clicks' with it like I did ... I really want someone to walk through this book with.
Dec 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This book is definitely written from a Fowler Stage 5 perspectives it is ultimately about learning from the tensions of duality and reconciling paradox. He uses a different story or poem to frame each of the last five chapter. These pieces of literature come different religious traditions that had uneven impact on me. But a couple were so powerful that I still believe it warrants the five star rating. John Dehlin this is a book I would recommend to you.
Aug 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
Palmer uses literature (mostly poetry) to highlight the key lessons he wants you as a reader to take away. The poems and stories were thought-provoking and I imagine I'll be flipping back to them regularly. A good read especially if you're on any sort of spiritual quest.
Jun 30, 2011 added it
There's a very nice realists interpretation of the parable of the five loaves and two fishes here, one that will stay with me for some time. I also like Palmer's ideas about professionalism: it's equal parts illusion and reality.
C. Wess
May 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in thinking about the two poles between contemplation and action and how these two are worked out in our individual and communal lives. Palmer's style is accessible and enjoyable to read.
Rev. Linda
One the back cover, this quote describes this book better than I could: "...spiritual life does not mean abandoning the world, but engaging it more deeply through life-giving action."
Chua Shuyi
Aug 17, 2016 rated it really liked it
Thought-provoking! And inspiring!
Feb 12, 2010 rated it it was ok
There were some good parts but on the whole I was disappointed. Generally I like Parker Palmer but this one was kind of a dud.
Feb 18, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Another awesome book by Palmer. It is easy to understand him and you go away filled with insights.
Chelsey Hillyer
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Palmer explores the paradoxical tension and complementary nature of the active and contemplative life. And it is freaking brilliant.
Jul 15, 2016 rated it did not like it
Appleton Book Club
Jul 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
An ethic for those who seek to "serve the great works of justice, peace, and love."
This book is one of Palmer's best and uses ancient stories to talk about the intergration of the inner and outer life, the search for authentic self, and the finding of one's true vocation.
rated it really liked it
Jul 22, 2012
rated it it was amazing
Oct 27, 2015
rated it really liked it
Jan 02, 2017
rated it really liked it
Jun 01, 2016
Tiaan Willemse
rated it really liked it
Jan 24, 2016
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Parker J. Palmer (Madison, WI) is a writer, teacher and activist whose work speaks deeply to people in many walks of life. Author of eight books--including the bestsellers Courage to Teach, Let Your Life Speak, and A Hidden Wholeness--his writing has been recognized with ten honorary doctorates and many national awards, including the 2010 William Rainey Harper Award (previously won by Margaret Mea ...more
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