Do you have a lodestar book?

One that explains your self to yourself?

One that you can read in any season of life and it still instructs, comforts, and inspires you?

Like this one?

The Song of the Lark, one of two copies in my library.

The Song of the Lark, one of two battered copies in my library.

I have read this book at least four times.

I come back to some passages nearly every year.

This novel tells the story of the artist as a young woman

and how she finds her calling as an opera singer.

For me, the heart of the book has always been the section called “The Ancient People,”

set in Panther Canyon among the cliff dwellings in northern Arizona.

Thea Kronborg arrives in this place from Chicago as a broken person who has studied both piano and voice.

She was stuck.

Her voice was weak in the middle range. She was ready to give up her dream of becoming an artist.

She lets go of her striving, even lets go of her dream. She’s tired.

Every page of this book is marked with responses, observations.

Every page of this book is marked with my responses, observations.

Do you see that note written on the upper lefthand side?

I think I was in my 30’s when I penned those words imagining an epitaph.

I already “knew” where my older years were headed!

I was “seeing” the truth in this sentence. I was feeling it inside my body.

“The things which were for her, she saw.”

When I found these words, and my marginal note, yesterday, I felt “it” again.

Energy zipped through me. I sat up straight. My eyes focused.

Cather’s words later in the chapter go deeper into the sensory and mystical and physical process.

Why was I going back to Willa Cather yesterday?

I needed new language, better language, for the idea of calling. I was trying to answer the challenge

from a new friend, Judith Valente, who wrote,

“Sometime I would love you to write on how you base decisions on whether you sense a call in your inner life that resonates with an outer call. That would be very worthwhile reading for women like me who tend to do too much!”

Judith is the author of two books about contemplation, How to Live, and The Art of Pausing. Her request reminded

me that no amount of study, desire, and even spiritual practice, protects us from

 accumulating more (good things!) than we can handle.

I had just turned down a very attractive invitation, one full of opportunity and pleasing to my ego,

but, ultimately, not one I felt called to.

I had had an external call, but not an internal one. Which is why Judith challenged me to explain.

I chuckled when I read the “women who do too much” part of her challenge.

Then I remembered another book.

When this book came out, I was a professor, mother of two children, and active in church and community. In other words, tired much of the time.

When this book came out, I was a professor, mother of two children, and active in church and community. In other words, like Thea, I was tired.

This book survived four moves and many book give-aways.

Unlike the lodestar book, it contains few underlinings. However, I opened it up to one of the few red markings:

"I have to know myself each moment."

“I have to know myself each moment.”

Yes. A calling is just a series of moments that move and grow and have being inside you.

The only two words I remember from reading Anne Wilson Schaef in the 1990s?

Solar plexus.

She named a place in the body, right below the rib cage,

where, for her, the external world and internal worlds come together.

Apparently, I have a similar make-up.

On the Meyers-Briggs test I am an INFJ. My N (intuition) is the dominant characteristic by far.

However, you don’t have to experience “Spidey senses” to learn from your inner teacher.

I believe our bodies contain wisdom and that they were designed to be God’s gift to us,

linking the physical to the spiritual.

Back to Judith’s question:

How (do) you base decisions on whether you sense a call in your inner life

that resonates with an outer call?

There are no absolute answers to this question.

But there are many signs.

When calling is aligned internally and externally,

my heart beats faster. I lose my physical hunger. My fingers fly over the keyboard.

I even sing like Thea in Panther Canyon:

“She had begun to understand that — with her at least — voice was, first of all, vitality; a lightness in the body and a driving power in the blood. If she had that, she could sing. When she felt so keenly alive, lying on that insensible shelf of stone, when her body body bounded like a rubber ball away from tis harness, then she could sing.”

With words as my medium, I try to “bend it like Beckham” —

find that arc in the universe where opposites,

a line and a circle, come together,

as I know they will some day.

Cather hated formulas. But she wanted Thea’s world to open up other inner worlds.

So one can extract a series of actions from this book (bend it like Thea) which are ones I often take when in doubt:

Go into a natural place: a woods, garden, lake, ocean, canyon, . . .

Feel the sun on your face. Lie down on a blanket in the sun.

Let go of mind chatter. Move past silence to stillness. Become aware of your body.

Remember yourself as a child. What made your heart sing?

Talk to trusted friends.

In making my most recent decision, I did all of these. But # 5 was most important.

Fortunately, I am blessed by friends.

The first is often my husband.

One of them is even an expert on spirit and the body.

Two of them followed their callings into college presidencies and

know a thing or two about this process and about lodestar books.

Another friend, was my confessor after the decision was made.

Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community

Judith Trumbo, CEO of Virginia Mennonite Retirement Community

All of them asked me good questions. None of them gave me advice.

But when I said I didn’t feel the calling in my body, they all understood.

Judith Valente challenged me to go further in describing the calling process.

So it was fun to turn to another new friend, Judith Trumbo,

business person of the year for Rockingham County, and ask her to describe how she experiences calling.

She too finds time in nature essential to knowing herself, finding refreshment, and making decisions.

Mary's rocks with Cher.

Mary’s Rock Summit Trail with Cher.

Paddling through Moraine Lake.

Paddling through Moraine Lake.

Judith cited the famous quote from Frederick Buechner:

“The place to which God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Judith followed her heart into the healthcare profession.

She worked for a time as a critical care nurse and there she was prompted to search for something different.

She knew, even at a young age, that her calling was to help people

“live well, age well, and end well.”

I guess you can see why we are friends. 🙂

I serve on the board of her organization, which I suppose you could say makes me her boss.

But, as I told her on International Women’s Day, when we expressed appreciation for each other,

“Who says role models need to be older than you?”

The lovely Psalm 42 explains how our connections to each other are also connections to the creation and creator:

Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

One person’s calling can pull forth the calling of another.

Willa Cather and Thea Kronborg gave me language for my own experience.

As I have written these words,

I have felt a lightness of being.

I sent Stuart out the door to take his walk without me.

I left my red chair only long enough to put a cheese cauliflower in the oven.

Which I am now ravenous for!

Two hours after my usual lunchtime, I am ready to eat again, to walk in the sunshine,

and to say thanks for friends and beauty and the body, mind, and spirit all connected

in ways far too wonderful for me to understand

but not too wonderful to appreciate.

Now, it’s your turn. Please share YOUR lodestar books, the ones you have visited more than once or the ones that have helped guide your steps or named your calling. Also, do you relate to the idea of the body as a source of wisdom?

Shirley Showalter


  1. Delmer B. Martin on March 17, 2019 at 3:27 pm

    Thank You Shirley for the beautiful and insightful analysis and especially the way you laid it out in words.

    In the esoteric world we live in I am so extremely grateful for CHRISTIAN Bible based words of knowledge and wisdom.

    I can only say that for someone that is the least of those, its all about “the difference” between feeling happy and and feeling JOYFULL!

    “Happy” is something we might earn (or even deserve, perhaps) however receiving the feelings of “Pure Joy” we sometimes feel is an absolutely incredible miracle and a GIFT that can only come from our Creator.

    I believe we can and will feel Joy when we are in harmony with JEHOVAH Gods purpose for us.

    Best Regards;
    Delmer B. Martin
    R#4 Elmira

    • Shirley Showalter on March 17, 2019 at 3:43 pm

      I feel joyful, Delmar, that you were able to resonate with these words and add your own appreciation for the Bible as your guidebook on calling. Thank you for beginning the conversation all the way from Canada. Best regards to you also!

  2. Marlena on March 17, 2019 at 4:18 pm

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Shirley.

    I’m not sure I have one particular lodestar book. But lately I’ve gone back to reading a book that was enormously important to me 20 years ago when I learned I had cancer. The book is Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements.”
    My most underlined page is where he writes that we are all mentally sick with a disease called fear (anger, hate, sadness, envy, betrayal – those are all just symptoms of the disease)…and forgiveness is the only way to heal (that’s p. 114) – even forgiving God, which he claims is the only way we can finally forgive ourselves.

    I had to count how many moves this little book has survived: Five!

    As to relating to the body as a source of wisdom. Absolutely. I am an ENTJ. And my N is my most trusted decision maker – though it too has let me down.

    Just curious. What was the external call, or must that remain a secret?:-)

  3. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on March 17, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    It seems Canadians are resonating with your post! I’m happy to be back on your list.
    As a child my grandmother supplied me with German children’s books, and when we came to Canada I discovered schools had libraries! There was Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, and there was The Girl of the Limberlost.
    For about a six month period in my life I was in limbo. We were in Congo and had just moved to the capital city. I had homeschooled our children and now they all went to regular school and I was looking for what I might do next. Former missionaries had left their books and Ifor several months, until I figured out my next calling, I had my own theology course: I read and took copious notes: Agnes Sanford, Hanna Whitehall Smith, Watchman Nee, Catherine Marshall, CS Lewis. To this day I live from the wisdom I gained reading these Christian classics. It was such a great foundation for me as I went on to study more secular works in the higher halls of learning.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 17, 2019 at 5:47 pm

      I can only imagine your hunger for books under these circumstances, Elfrieda. Another factor in lodestar books is their rarity. Fortunately, the few books you had were classics, and they sank in deeply. We are going to Nova Scotia in late July, and I hope to go to Prince Edward Island and experience the Anne of Green Gable story in its own landscape. I hope to read the book to Owen, age 8, and Julia, age 6.5, before we go to P.E.I.

      I loved The Girl of the Limberlost too! And so did my mother and grandmother. If you ever visit Indiana, you can visit the home of Gene Stratton Porter.

      She had a calling!


  4. Tina Barbour on March 17, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    Hi, Shirley! I enjoyed this post so much. It prompted me to look at my bookshelves and think about “lodestar” books. Two of mine: Writing Down the Bones, by Natalie Goldberg and The Power of Myth, based on the Joseph Campbell interviews Bill Moyer did in the 1980s. I found Goldberg’s book when I was I my 20s in grad school. She gave me a different way to think about writing, and I used her ideas with my students when I taught and still use them with my own writing today. Also when I was in grad school, I tagged along with a couple of friends one night to watch a PBS series at a friend’s house. They were doctoral students in American Culture and were listening to the Joseph Campbell interviews. I listened to him and found a new way to think about myths and the stories we tell and live by. I felt how connected we all are.

    I do listen to my body and respect the wisdom of the body. I am an INFJ, too, and my body tells me if I am going in the wrong direction with my decisions.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 17, 2019 at 6:16 pm

      Both of your lodestar books are on my shelf, Tina. I was fortunate enough to attend a weekend workshop with Natalie Goldberg in 2008 and to work with Bill Moyers when the Fetzer Institute sponsored some of his later work. The thing I remember most with Natalie was how she led us on a walking meditation on the grounds of the retreat center. Each step was taken with such deep focus and intention. She believed in listening to the wisdom of the body!

      Good to be in touch again.

  5. Jo on March 17, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    Wonderful post, Shirley! My body tells me how and when to act. If I don’t feel sense of excitement and the “You’ve gotta do this,” feeling, when interesting things come along, I know it’s not for me. There have been times when I did not listen because ole Ego wanted some extra attention. When I allow that to happen, it’s not a happy time!

    I’m looking forward to seeing you this coming week at the Festival of the Book!

  6. Sue Shoemaker on March 17, 2019 at 5:01 pm

    Loved this post. “Gift from the Sea” by Anne Morrow Lindbergh has been a lodestar book for me; however, I have not read it since finding out about Charles’ other families. I’m not sure how that will impact another reading.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 17, 2019 at 6:54 pm

      Hi Sue, good to hear from you and to know that Gift from the Sea has been a lodestar book for you. Years ago, when I was beginning a program for adults at Goshen College, I worked with a colleague to design a series of short courses. We chose a quote from “your” book: “The patterns of our lives are essentially circular.”

      The mention of other families sent me off to do a Google search. I had read about these multiple family revelations — and before them, the charges of anti-semitism and pro-German, even pro-Nazi, statements.

      The truths of Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s book will stand the test of time, I think. The tarnish on her husband’s reputation may also cast a shadow on hers, but only if she too expressed similar sentiments, which to my knowledge, she did not.

  7. Marian Beaman on March 17, 2019 at 6:39 pm

    You’ve treated us to a treatise today, a lovely collection on calling. So much resonates. To begin with: Anne Wilson Schaef’s Women who Do Too Much. I listened to her voice on a cassette tape in the nineties when I was a professor, mother of two children, and active in church and neighborhood. Tired, too.

    I read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way shortly after it came out in 1992 and remember her admonition to walk, take artist dates, and write morning pages. Recently, I’ve become a Julia C. book junkie. Where to start? She’s written more than 40 books in spite of her struggle with alcoholism and nervous breakdowns. I’ve just read her memoir, Floor Sample, where she rightly claims to be the floor sample of her own toolkit. I’ve sampled Faith and Will: Weathering the Storm in our Spiritual Lives, and used some excerpts from Finding Water, the Art of Perseverance, from which I’ve quoted in a recent blog post:

    “Our creativity resembles sunlight more than lightning bolts.”

    “We carry wisdom in our bodies. We carry memories and we carry, too, the medicine for what ails us. We can walk our way to sanity. We can walk our way to sanity. Baffled and confused, we can walk our way to knowing the ‘next right step.’”

    An ENFJ (close to an I, mind you!), I aim to follow my bliss, Joseph Campbell’s ageless summons. Your epitaph idea: “The things that were for her she saw,” intriguing. Thanks for all this, Shirley.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 17, 2019 at 7:49 pm

      I just chuckle when I think of how parallel our universes have been, Marian. You listened on tape to Women Who Do Too Much. That way you could shuttle kids around and get groceries and grade papers while you waited and also tried to meditate? Or was that only me? 🙂

      Julia Cameron sounds like a fascinating writer to delve into more deeply. I think I have two of her books on my shelf also. I did not know about her personal struggles, but they make her amazing output all the more remarkable.

      Her sentence about body wisdom helps us not only to connect with calling but to heal: “we carry . . . the medicine for what ails us.”

      Love that.

      And yes, Campbell’s “bliss,” when it is embodied, and “flow,” described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, have many similar attributes.

      Thanks for adding these thoughts.

  8. diane heath on March 17, 2019 at 8:24 pm

    Looking forward to re-reading the Cather. Thank you for this thought-provoking and inspiring post. I suppose Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul is always there for me to remind me of my own.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 17, 2019 at 8:45 pm

      Diane, I hope you get to spend some sweet time with Cather. She holds up well in most places for someone in the early 20th century writing about multiple cultures. And is extraordinary in her spiritual wisdom. As is Thomas Moore. Maybe you will feel called to revisit him also.

  9. Dolores Nice-Siegenthaler on March 17, 2019 at 9:27 pm

    Dear Shirley, There is so much wisdom here, in returning to our lodestars and sharing with friends. I want to read this again tomorrow and the day after….the potential epitaph is amazing.

    Having heard the Bible every day for the first 20 years of my life mean the Bible is still a lodestar for me, though the way it happens is different now. I am paid to be a Godly Play storyteller with children every Sunday. This means I am meditating on the week’s story from the Bible or about how we worship all week long…then I get to tell it with children, using props, and to wonder about it with them. It’s a very nurturing way of engaging with the Bible and with children.

    The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were a big part of my childhood also, and, while I don’t necessarily re-read them a lot, I recently found a book about Laura and her family and the context of her books and how they got written to be incredibly satisfying. Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder is the book. “Laura’s family’s way of meeting and being family in spite of the hardships becomes even more endearing,” I wrote in my Goodreads summary, but I will also say that the author of Prairie Fires (Caroline Fraser) helps us see the the family without being sentimental. I also realized how important it is to be able to hear about the times Laura lived in from a family that was just getting by.

    Another book I recently read, one that overtly explores class divides in our country, was Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth by Sarah Smarsh. It reminded me of the lives of the Ingalls and Wilder families, but it happens a century later. Here is a quote from my Goodreads notes: “Instead of mothering, her life’s work, Smarsh realizes, is “to be heard,” and her writing, as one who lived with her family in little houses on the prairie 100 years after Laura Ingalls and her family, is just what we need to hear.”

    I have read quite a few good books that you recommend, and I have been introduced to many other writers and good books from your circle of friends here. Thank you Shirley.
    Love, Dolores

    • Shirley Showalter on March 18, 2019 at 8:24 am

      Your comment contains a lot of wisdom too, Dolores. Thank you so much for honoring thought with thought, heart with heart.

      I had never heard of Godly Play storytelling before, but it sounds wonderful. Now that I am the vice-chair of the worship commission at our church, I might have the opportunity to introduce this idea.

      For many parents and grandparents, each new child brings an opportunity to return to favorite books, the ones who leave traces in the body.

      I have had many friends recommend Heartland. I think that’s a sign it might “be for me.” ?

  10. Marlena Fiol on March 17, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Shirley.

    I don’t think I have one particular lodestar book. But a book that continues to be important to me is one that I first read 20 years ago when I was diagnosed with cancer. It’s Don Miguel Ruiz’s “The Four Agreements.” One of the most underlined pages in my copy of the book is page 114, where he talks about the fact that all humans are sick with a disease called fear (hate, anger, sadness, envy, etc. are only symptoms of that disease. The only way to heal fear is forgiveness. And the only way to ultimately forgive ourselves is by forgiving God.

    It spoke deeply to me then and still does. I had to count the moves it has been through – I think five!

    I’m an ENTJ, and the N rules here. Our bodies know so much more than we THINK!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 18, 2019 at 9:33 am

      Marlena, The Four Agreements was recommended to me by a friend when I was working at the Fetzer Institute. I immediately recognized the wisdom of the four:

      Be impeccable with your word.
      Don’t take anything personally.
      Don’t make assumptions.
      Always do your best.

      But I had not remembered the line about fear until you mentioned it here. That’s one of the most important reasons to share the memories of books, stored in our bodies and minds, for when they will be needed again. We are living in an age dominated by fear. Let us keep striving to forgive and foster forgiveness.

      A survivor of five moves! It must “spark joy.” Maybe it is a lodestar book, if not THE one.

      And my I is almost tied with E. Same with T and F. I was a T after grad school. 🙂 I turned slightly F after grandmotherhood. 🙂

      • Marlena on March 18, 2019 at 11:27 am

        Ha! I haven’t taken the Myers-Briggs test since I was in grad school a lifetime ago. I imagine that now that I am a grandmother, I’ve become more of an I and more of an F as well:-)

        Actually, I have found that a much more spiritually-developmental personality system is the Enneagram. Are you familiar with it?

        • Shirley Showalter on March 18, 2019 at 12:55 pm

          Yes. I am a 3 with a strong wing to whatever side the mystic/poet is. 4?

          • Marlena on March 18, 2019 at 4:46 pm

            Yup. 4.
            I could have told you what Enneagram type you were from reading your memoir. Not yet having read mine, you wouldn’t guess that I’m an 8!

          • Shirley Showalter on March 18, 2019 at 6:04 pm

            Does an 8 have extrasensory perception? 🙂

          • Marlena Fiol on March 18, 2019 at 6:18 pm

            Did you ask whether an 8 has extrasensory perception because I said I knew that you were a 3? It was truly obvious…you wanted to be big – that’s quintessentially 3. And I know 3 characteristics well, because I scored as high on 3 as I did on 8. But 3 characteristics made me smile, while 8 characteristics made me weep. That’s how I knew my true type, despite 3 and 8 being nearly tied.

            It’s what I most love about the Enneagram. It exposes our truest shadow self … and helps us find a way to heal it if we’re willing.

  11. Melinda DiBernardo on March 18, 2019 at 8:30 am

    Well, This is a most refreshing conversation! It is a Monday morning where this finds me. And several things have swirled through my head, but a lodestar book? I looked at the shelf next to my bed….nope. But I do read and re-read any Philip Yancy I get my hands on. I opened up my kindle and right there is a most recent re-read, A Meal with Jesus by Tim Chester. And the quote that hooked me into it. “The Jews of Jesus’s day would have said the Son of Man will come to vindicate the righteous and defeat God’s enemies. They didn’t expect him to come to seek and save the lost. And they would have said the Son of Man will come in glory and power. They would never have said he would come eating and drinking.”
    I remember at one time in my life that ‘eating every time we (Christians) got together’ was spoken of disdainfully, and this freed me! I love to set a table, to cook good food for guests. At the time we were hosting a Bible study in our home and about half of the people were single. So I said to come early and have supper with us. And as I read, I could see this quote from the book happening in my home; “I think of my own missional community. A dozen or so people of all ages and backgrounds eat together on a Thursday night around the table: enjoying simple food yet relishing it (as we do) as a good gift from God; celebrating together what the Spirit has been doing in our lives; praying for the needs of the world; and discussing how we can bless our neighborhood in Christ’s name.” They were the best of times. ..
    Some time ago I was asked to teach poetry to first graders. I had them make a poetry book in which we recorded the poems we were learning and had space to draw pictures as well. I got my own book and though I feel I am a pretty lame artist, I joined in and the book is a treasure to me. Last fall I thought , I enjoyed it then, I will probably enjoy it now, and I get to choose all the poems myself! This has Saved me from winter doldrums And it has sent me scouting for poems to copy. I’ve discovered Mary Oliver only recently, since she died, and a neighbor has loaned me a collection of hers called Thirst. The more I read it the more I thought I am Mary Oliver! I am going to have to buy my own copy.
    Thanks for all the great book recommendations!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 18, 2019 at 9:43 am


      So much to connect to here! During Lent before our church services begin, each small group is invited, one at a time, to come set the table at the altar table. Someone brings a loaf of fresh bread to the table and we are all reminded of the eating, drinking Jesus (his body). We also get to see each other, since these groups meet privately in people’s homes. We have named ourselves. Last Sunday Diaspora set the table. Next week it will be our group of nine, five of whom will be able to go forward with a place setting. Our name? Wit and wisdom. We have a nice age span from 30-something to 70-something. We joke that the young people bring the wisdom, so we oldsters have to bring the wit.

      Philip Yancy has a real gift for making the spiritual life real, embodied. He can also reach readers across a wide spectrum of theological and political beliefs. No wonder you go back to him. We need his voice now more than ever.

      Thanks for your visit here. I am off to see what you blog about.

  12. Laurie Buchanan on March 18, 2019 at 10:02 am

    Shirley — Thank you for this post. The timing and its deep impact on me are more than you can know.

    Two of my “lodestar” books are: “A Severe Mercy: A Story of Faith, Tragedy, and Triumph” by Sheldon Vanauken, and “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee (which I’ve read in full every New Year’s day since I was in my 30s).

    As I look through the comments from your other readers, I see other books that have made a profound impact on my life: “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron, and “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg, to name two.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 18, 2019 at 11:43 am

      Laurie, I am so glad to have given you something you can use today.

      I don’t know the Vanauken book at all, so I looked it up. I loved the title, I was impressed by the reviews, and, most of all, I love the fact that you love it enough to consider it a lodestar book. I’ve been to Oxford and surrounding pubs, and I think I can put myself there. Vanauken said when he writes, he writes for friends. That’s what I tried to do here, too. Thank you, friend.

      • Shirley Showalter on March 18, 2019 at 11:43 am

        Oh yes, I ordered the book!

        • Laurie Buchanan on March 18, 2019 at 11:51 am

          shirley — have a box of tissue at the ready (trust me on this)…

  13. Carol Bodensteiner on March 18, 2019 at 10:44 am

    Shirley, this is a wonderful post. I have always struggled with the concept of “calling.” Since I can be interested in anything and everything for a period of time, the ideas of ‘calling’ or ‘following my passion’ seemed too permanent (that’s not the right word, but I’m going with it for the moment), for my way of doing things. The way you describe it here finally makes sense to me. Feeling something in my body and knowing I’ll find joy in doing it – that resonates for me. Thanks.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 18, 2019 at 11:58 am

      Thank you, Carol. I think we may have talked about some of these issues over our years of conversation. 🙂 I’m so glad this description of calling, centered in the body, helps you connect. The accumulation of small sensations, tested one step at a time, is probably more in keeping with the experience of most people than a dramatic singular event and an undeviating path. I think this idea would help a lot of young people, even though it may be less certain than what they expect or hope for.

  14. Dora Dueck on March 18, 2019 at 5:34 pm

    Thank you for your post and the subsequent conversations, Shirley. I wish I knew the Willa Cather books better. I know you’re a real devotee. Perhaps that will have to be a reading project of mine in the future! At any rate, I have recently been immersing myself once again in the work of Margaret Laurence (1926-1987). She was an inspiration to me earlier in my life on account of her strong female characters and also her prairie settings. Raised in British literature in school, it was amazing to read powerful stuff from my own country. A character attending the very university in Winnipeg I had, etc.! And I have just now learned something interesting as I read, in conjunction with her work, a biography of her. Alfred Knopf, who took a chance on Laurence and published her in the U.S., in spite of several initial reports from his hired readers that were not so positive, was also a great admirer of Willa Cather. He liked books about frontiers and the opening of the West. And, comments the biographer, Cather’s work bears many similarities to Laurence’s! Well, there you go, in this indirect way you with Cather and me with Laurence, reaching hands!

    • Shirley Showalter on March 18, 2019 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Dora. I always enjoy reading your words. I need to look up Margaret Laurence. I know I have read some things of hers, but too long ago. Knopf was Cather’s great mentor and editor, and Cather may have paved the way, as you suggest, for another prairie writer.

      Another fun fact. The current editor-in-chief at Knopf (owned by Penguin Random House, where my daughter-in-law works) is the uncle of one of my former students, now an editor at Beacon Press! Gayatri will be the commencement speaker at Goshen College this year. She has invited me to attend. And I am able to go. So honored.

      “The patterns of our lives are essentially circular,” as Anne Morrow Lindbergh (see above) said. 🙂

  15. Anne Ross on March 18, 2019 at 9:20 pm

    Shirley, as always, I enjoy reading your blogs, but this one is outstanding. One word kept drifting up to me last night after I read it: succulent. Your essay is succulent! Filled with rich, delectable thoughts that resonate with me (and with those who have written comments). Thank you so much.
    It has been fun for me to think of my lodestar books from my past. I would include “Gift From the Sea,” “The Art Spirit” by Robert Henri, and “Seasons of Your Heart” by Macrina Wiederkehr. My current favorite poet is Mary Oliver and I own many of her books. I resonate with the intoxication she had for nature. I, too, cannot get enough of natural beauty. It is walking in woods that releases something within me that feeds my spirit.
    As far as calling, it was almost as if my heart, mind, and soul were waiting for the call to ministry that I felt in my early 50’s. I entered seminary when I was 52; it felt natural to me, as if everything in my past pointed to it and when I accepted it, it was only logistics about how to pursue it that gave me pause. Everything else fell into place. I have also felt a calling to write and because of your blog I took “Writing Down the Bones” from my bookcase and will re-read it.
    Bless you, Shirley, for your words and thoughts. Anne

    • Shirley Showalter on March 19, 2019 at 10:43 am


      What a tasty comment — so much fun to read. ?

      The new book for me in your list is Seasons of Your Heart. When I finish this comment, I’ll go check it out.

      You do indeed have the deep experience of a calling. I hear it in every prayer you pray. I’m so glad we could travel together on pilgrimage to great Irish, Scottish, and British places of spiritual beauty.

      • Shirley Showalter on May 20, 2019 at 10:01 am

        Anne, I am reading and enjoying Seasons of Your Heart. Slowly. Lectio divina style. I took of my shoes and waded in. Loving it.

        • Anne Ross on May 20, 2019 at 10:13 am

          Shirley, thanks for your comment about “Seasons of Your Heart.” I’ll have to re-read it now and enjoy its spirit all over again. It’s been a while since I read it and loved it. It was good to hear from you. Anne

          • Shirley Showalter on May 20, 2019 at 10:32 am


  16. Melodie Davis on March 19, 2019 at 1:51 pm

    I’m late to the game, here, because of the process of moving out of my office, etc. (retirement) and was having trouble pinning down the location of one of my longtime lodestar books, already mentioned here: Gift from the Sea. Margaret Foth introduced me to that back in the late 70s and I’ve used it many times; among the favorite lines:
    Solitude, says the moon shell. Every person, especially every woman, should be alone sometime during the year, some part of each week, and each day.” … You surely know it. And then she writes about how the church has been a place, too, for that quiet.

    I didn’t know either about Charles’ other families, but I trust too that this book will stand the test of time and not wash away with the tides.

    But speaking of call, did you read Sara Wenger Shenk’s piece on how she did NOT feel, at first, called to her current post at AMBS, (with a link to her longer story about that time). I was fascinated and moved by her sharing. How could she not feel called to AMBS? But with your confession of turning down an interesting and compelling call–you can perhaps understand. In case you mixed it, here’s a link.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 19, 2019 at 5:38 pm

      Never too late, Melodie. Thanks for sharing these lines from Gifts from the Sea.

      And, yes, I had read Sara’s description of wrestling with her calling:

      “Meanwhile, in my own spirit, I was deeply disquieted. Strange dreams showed up that I lived with for days before they began to open themselves to me. Biblical stories of call drew me in with new urgency. I often awoke at 4:30 a.m. or earlier and couldn’t wait to light a candle and sink into prayer, holding on for dear life, because the ground was shifting beneath me. The choral music of the Russian Orthodox Church—with sacred masterpieces from Rachmaninov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Tchaikovsky and others—held me in their deep harmonies when I had no words, morning after morning. I’ve never felt so inexorably led step by step, in a direction I resisted with every fiber of my being.”

      Thank you for pointing me there again. She is describing her bodily responses, also. Dreams, sinking, holding, shifting ground, and listening. Led and resisting. And finally yielding. The external call eventually became internal. But it wasn’t easy. I do know this kind of calling also.

  17. Erma Martin Yost on March 21, 2019 at 10:53 am

    Thanks for the reminding me of Song of the Lark. You introduced me to the book and Cather back in your grad school days. I haven’t reread it as often as you have, but I visit the canyon every chance I get—sometimes once a year. It always offers what one needs at the time, if one is quiet and listens.

    • Shirley Showalter on March 21, 2019 at 11:31 am

      Oh Erma, so glad you found this post, because I thought of you several times when writing it. I have revisited the exquisite inauguration gift you gave me — a work of art, now hanging on my kitchen wall, commemorating this Cather quote: “And the air . . .it was like breathing the sun, breathing the color of the sky.”

      You were able to help me read more deeply by offering these three words: “She is so visual.”

      Your return trips to the Southwest and to canyons, especially, always inspire me. You go through your version of Cather’s know-it-in-the-body process.

      Thank you, friend!

  18. […] a visual artist who shares my love of Willa Cather, chose to add words to her […]

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