The Pearl, vol. 72: A mystical, revolutionary New Year

Dear Oysters, 

Happy New Year's Eve! It's a special Saturday edition. I hope you've been enjoying as much relaxation, snuggles, and cheese-eating as I have. 

This year, I published 21 editions of The Pearl. I wasn't the most loyal weekly correspondent, but all things considered, this little email gathering is still one of my favorite projects. It puts me in heart-filled conversation with all of you, and that means a lot to me. Thank you so much for reading, responding, and sharing. 

As the year wraps up, lots of publications are sharing Best Of 2016 lists. What I'd like to share with you is the work of just one person, whose books have really transformed the end of my year: the Catholic priest and writer, Henri Nouwen

Recently, while I was hunkered down on a four-day writing retreat, I started taking a daily walk to clear my head. It was on the first walk that I discovered The Potter's House, one of those magical bookstores that becomes a place of pilgrimage. 


I bought Nouwen's famous book, The Wounded Healer, because I'd been hearing his name for years from the wonderful Parker Palmer. I was astounded by the book's simplicity, brilliance, and heart-fulness. I took notes furiously, sometimes copying down whole pages ... and sometimes with tears dropping onto my keyboard. 

More than anyone I've read, Nouwen captures our deep human longing to be of service. And in these difficult political days in America—when we can feel that this world needs our engagement more than ever before—his words are deeply important. One of my favorite parts is when he names two "types" of changemakers, of healers, in the world: mystics and revolutionaries. 

The mystical way is the inner way.  … The increasing number of houses of meditation, concentration, and contemplation, and the many new Zen and yoga centers show that we are trying to reach a moment, a point or a center, in which the distinction between life and death can be transcended and in which a deep connection with all of nature, as well as with all of history, can be experienced. … There we come into contact with the center of our own creativity … There we touch the place where all people are revealed as equal and where compassion becomes a human possibility. There we come to the shocking, but at the same time self-evident, insight that prayer is not a pious decoration of life but the breath of human existence.”
[Revolutionaries] are tired of pruning trees and clipping branches; they want to pull out the roots of a sick society. … Only a total radical upheaval of the existing order, together with a drastic change of direction, can prevent the end of everything.

... Mysticism and revolution are two aspects of the same attempt to bring about radical change. Mystics cannot prevent themselves from becoming social critics, since in self-reflection they will discover the roots of a sick society. Similarly, revolutionaries cannot avoid facing their own human condition, since in the midst of their struggle for a new world they will find that they are also fighting their own reactionary fears and false ambitions.

So whether you find yourself identifying more as a mystic, a revolutionary, or something else altogether, know that the world needs your particular flavor of caring, of creativity, of aliveness. In 2017, I hope we can keep scheming together about how to stay sane, engaged, healthy, and helpful in spite of the mess we're in. We don't have to do it alone. I'm lucky to have your ear and correspondence.

Now let's go drink some champagne, because we're still alive and we have each other.

Much love, stay salty, and Happy New Year.


If you'd like to join our little email circle of sanity in 2017, please subscribe to The Pearl!