Stop! And Listen! — David Whyte, Krista Tippett, and Jubilación

Stop what you’re doing now and listen, really listen, to this podcast. Then come back to join the conversation here.

From the podcast website and David Whyte's websites in links below.

From the podcast website (link above) and the personal websites in links below.

If you can’t stop at the moment, read this post first and listen later.

 The poet philosopher David Whyte and radio host and author Krista Tippett have influenced millions of readers and listeners, including me.

Their conversation broadcast on April 7, 2016, happened at just the right time to connect to our emerging blog theme of Jubilación.

Below, you can read some excerpts from the podcast, see how I am relating to them, and then, YOU have a role in building the next step.


First, read this exchange on finding our unique gift, what others sometimes call vocation:

Ms. Tippett: There’s some lines from this poem “What to Remember When Waking.” “To be human is to become visible while carrying what is hidden as a gift to others.”

Mr. Whyte: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: What does that mean?

Mr. Whyte: Well, it’s really working with that earlier dynamic we worked of of incarnation, of becoming visible in the world. And yet the gift that you’re going to give and keep on giving is an invisible gift that will take many different forms and that you learn more of each time you allow it to take a different form. And you move from your 20s into your 30s, and you suddenly find another, larger form for it, or a different shape that makes a different connection. And then you deepen it in your 40s. And you get overwhelmed by it in your 50s. And then it returns to you again in more mature forms, settled forms, in your 60s. So this is the gift that keeps giving. And it’s that internal deeper source. It’s you becoming more and more real and more and more visible in the world.

When I heard these words, I flashed on these from the very beginning of Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World:

“When I was little, I wanted to be big . . . I wanted to be seen. . . .”

That desire, so problematic for a Mennonite girl child, has evolved over a lifetime. I’ve been slowly transformed by life itself and by the privilege of walking beside some truly wise people. I’m in the process of learning to give myself away.

Or, as I described it a year ago on my “about” page:

And here I am as I look now, enjoying my encore vocation, circling around to the same desire I had as a young child — only now I would call my desire to become large instead of big. I want to be dissolved into something larger than myself. I’ve let go of a career I have loved; now I am living into my vocation. It’s still all about learning — and, by the grace of God, will be, right up to my very last breath.

Let’s go back to David Whyte and Krista Tippett for deeper exposition:

Mr. Whyte: Yeah. All of us have this inherited conversation inside us which we know is untouchable. It comes from our parents, from our — the way we’re made, and all the rest of it. But that’s an invisible quality inside you. All the visible qualities that take form and structure will have to change in order to keep the conversation real. Just as we go through the different decades of our life, we have to change the structures of our life in order to keep things new, in order to keep our youthfulness. And I do think there is a quality of youthfulness which is appropriate to every decade of our life. It just looks different.

We have this fixed idea of youthfulness from our teens or our 20s. But, actually, there’s a form of youthfulness you’re supposed to inhabit when you’re in your 70s or your 80s or your 90s. It’s this sense of imminent surprise, of imminent revelation, except the revelation and the discovery is more magnified. Fiercer, more to do with your mortality and what you’re going to pass on and leave behind you, the shape of your own absence.

Ms. Tippett: There are these lines from “Ten Years Later,” your poem: “Innocence is what we allow to be gifted back to us once we’ve given ourselves away.”

Mr. Whyte: Yes. That’s right.

Ms. Tippett: It’s true that one of the gifts of getting older that is a surprise is that — is a quality of youthfulness that doesn’t have anything to do with your physical body, but it’s like a recovery of something so lovely.

Mr. Whyte: Yes. Exactly. It’s like a deep memory at the same time, and a giving away. Innocence is, in a way, the ability to be found by the world. It’s not a state of naivety. It’s the ability to be found by the world you’re now inhabiting. And part of what we find is we’re just supposed to give ourselves away, actually. I often feel that one of the real signs of maturity is not only understanding that you’re a mortal human being and you are going to die, which usually happens in your mid 40s or 50s — “Oh, I am actually going to die. It’s not someone else I’m going to become.”

But another step of maturity is actually realizing that the rest of creation might be a little relieved to let you go. [laughs] That you can stop repeating yourself, stop taking all this oxygen up, and make way for something else which you’ve actually beaten a trail for. And it could be your son, your daughter, could be people you’ve taught or mentored, it could be — the more generous you are, the more that circle extends into our society and those who go after us.

Doesn’t this conversation just steal your breath away?
Now, my dear friends, here is the quote from the podcast that was meant for us!

Ms. Tippett: So you call forth something beautiful by asking a beautiful question.

Mr. Whyte: Yes, you do. Yeah, you do. And then the other part of it, too, is that there’s this weighted silence behind each question. And to live with that sense of trepidation — what I call beautiful trepidation — the sense of something about to happen that you’ve wanted, but that you’re scared to death of actually happening. [laughs] None of us really feel we deserve our happiness.

And before that exchange, this one:

Mr. Whyte:We go through those very, very narrow places. And John [O’Donohue] used to talk about how you shaped a more beautiful mind, and that it’s an actual discipline, no matter what circumstances you’re in. The way I interpreted it was the discipline of asking beautiful questions, and that a beautiful question shapes a beautiful mind. And so the ability to ask beautiful questions, often in very unbeautiful moments, is one of the great disciplines of a human life. And a beautiful question starts to shape your identity as much by asking it as it does by having it answered.

And you don’t have to do anything about it. You just have to keep asking. And before you know it, you will find yourself actually shaping a different life, meeting different people, finding conversations that are leading you in those directions that you wouldn’t even have seen before.

Ms. Tippett: That’s what Rilke called “living the question.”

Mr. Whyte: Exactly. Yeah. He’s always there before you. [laughs]

I feel as though I have been “living the question” that goes a little like this: “What new song is the world calling forth from elders today that has yet to find its language? What kinds of conversations can contribute to this birth?”

Last week in this space we talked about dream jobs, and you led me to an epiphany. Instead of speaking, I need to listen. Instead of proclaiming, I need to ask questions.

Duh. 🙂

I first named our blog community ubuntu, after Desmund Tutu and his South African wisdom. You are part of it!

What are the beautiful questions we need to ask each other? What is one thing you want to know from others about their callings, their vulnerable places, their unfinished work, their fears, their joys? Who in the world shall we reach out to?

Can you think of one beautiful question below? My idea is to collect, then edit, these questions and use them as a base for interviews. I’m open to change if there is a better way, a more beautiful design, for all to share their wisdom.

Shirley Showalter


  1. Laurie Buchanan on April 13, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    Shirley —

    I particularly enjoyed this statement:

    “It’s this sense of imminent surprise, of imminent revelation, except the revelation and the discovery is more magnified. Fiercer, more to do with your mortality and what you’re going to pass on and leave behind you, the shape of your own absence.”

    Specifically, “…the shape of your own absence.” In my mind it begs the question: What indelible imprint do you hope to make on the life of others? For example…

    – Shirley Showalter – the mark you’ve left on my life is the spirit of pioneering the future.
    – Marian Beaman – the mark you’ve left on my life is that there’s tremendous value in observing/honoring the past.
    – Kathy Pooler – the mark you’ve left on my life is to seize the moment—with joy—regardless.

    I could go on…

    There’s value to every element of time. As we learned in Daisy Hickman’s book, “The Silence of Morning: A Memoir of Time Undone” — time does not have to be presented in chronological order. As we’ve discussed in previous posts, we tend to walk between the veils of kairos and chronos time.

    I’m currently traveling and they’re calling for my flight. Bye for now…

    • Shirley Showalter on April 13, 2016 at 3:59 pm

      Thanks, Laurie, for starting the conversation — even as you were leaving on a jet plane.

      I too love the phrase “the shape of your own absence.” And the idea of persistent youthfulness that comes from the ability to expect surprise and revelation in the older years.

      How kind of you to begin a list that names the indelible imprint you’ve received from others. You’ve been reading with your heart for many years.

      So, one question you propose is “what indelible imprint do you hope to leave in the lives of others”? That one is going on the list!

  2. Elfrieda Neufeld Schroeder on April 13, 2016 at 5:27 pm

    “. . . the shape of your own absence” struck me between the eyes as well. Since I am not Albert Einstein or Florence Nightingale, who will even know anything about me and my existence after one generation has passed? Does it matter? Who will read my diaries? Should I even keep them? I wish with all my heart that my mother and my grandmother had written diaries because I would read them. I want to know more about their lives, but there is very little they left behind. What I do know, is the influence they had on me as a child and as a young adult and how that is shaping me even today.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 13, 2016 at 6:28 pm

      Elfrieda, thanks for this response. Let me try to draw an interview question out of it. Tell me if I’m close, okay?

      Do you keep a journal? What hopes do you have that the journal will help ease the absence after you are gone?

      If you don’t keep one, do you pin your hopes for a legacy on something else?

  3. Marian Beaman on April 13, 2016 at 5:50 pm

    I enjoy sampling Krista Tippet each week and have pondered poet David Whyte’s prose work Crossing the Unknown Sea: Work as a Pilgrimage of Identity.

    And I too raise my glass to imminent surprise, beautiful trepidation – and youthful vulnerability. Your post has also inspired me to pause and practice with my husband “alertness . . . the hidden discipline of familiarity.”

    I see so many “immortal diamonds” scattered in the podcast, your post, and Laurie’s comment (bless her). Nature, including mortal human nature, is a “Heraclitean Fire”with the hope of transformation and eventual resurrection

    I offer two questions. You can decide whether they are beautiful or not – ha!
    1. Is the language you have now large enough for your God-given vision?
    2. What quality of youthfulness matches your stage of life now?

    Thank you for showing the way to living large in writing as in life. Spectacular!

    • Shirley Showalter on April 13, 2016 at 6:34 pm

      Marian, you led me to a Hopkins poem I did not know. Thank you! It has even more sprung rhythm and startling images than usual. And the image of immortal diamonds will stay with me. David Whyte scatters them in nearly every sentence.

      I love both your questions and am putting them on “The List.”

      Thank you.

      • Marian Beaman on April 13, 2016 at 7:52 pm

        I heard this poem read aloud by a Vicar/Dean/Priest at Westminster Abbey the Sunday before my week in Oxford the summer before my retirement from teaching. I have lived with it ever since.

        • Tracy Lee Karner on April 15, 2016 at 6:53 pm

          Thank you, Marian. I love Hopkins, and don’t remember reading this.

  4. Audrey Denecke on April 14, 2016 at 1:45 pm

    So much here to sit with Shirley, I may have to ponder the question awhile.
    The question you posed on “What kind of conversations can contribute to its’ birth?” brings me to a form or forum for asking these issues. Decades ago now, I participated in Circle Council Practice (Christina Baldwin and Ann Linnea) on Whidbey Island off Washington State. Circle Council, as you may know, is dialogue based. It relies on the wisdom in the center of the circle. It starts with an invitation around a question. We all sit in a circle (holding the rim) and listen deeply to each other as each person speaks holding a ceremonial item (stick or whatever it may be) the rest of us attend to what the speaker offers. When I come to your blog and few others like yours (fostering community, centered in purpose, coming together through writing), it does remind me of Circle Council practice.
    During one circle council practice session where we had created a plan for using our new council skills, we utilized an approach that Parker Palmer wrote about in his small book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, the Quaker “clearness committee.” The process was, a selected few meet with you, not to give advice, but for 3 hours of discernment questions. For PP, it led him to a breakthrough. In our case, we circulated the room with a brief statement of our plan, each person we met directly asked us one question for later discernment.

    I am a leadership coach coming from “integral coaching” training. One of the ways we work with clients as integral coaches is to offer a “distinction” in question form centered in who the person is and how they see the world that opens up what is possible. It is merely a beginning place. It usually would take a metaphor (ex. sailing) of something important to that person and form the distinction question from that.
    Finally, and my apologies I have not yet learned brevity, a poem from Alice Koller on purposes that may apply to callings:
    “But purposes aren’t blackberries waiting to be found: they’re brought into existence by human choices. So they depend upon a previous wanting, which shapes the path toward their fulfillment.”
    For you, wanting to be big now large.
    For me, wanting each person to be treated with respect, fairness and love.
    So my question (albeit in complex form) may be: what aspects of who I am are being called upon,in what ways through what circles of my life to foster justice?

    • Shirley Showalter on April 14, 2016 at 3:47 pm

      Audrey, we have traveled in so many of the same circles, literally and figuratively. The places, books, people, and experiences of your life resonate deeply with mine. Clearness committees were helpful to me at several different points in my career. Parker Palmer often quotes this Robert Frost poem:

      Another person I’m sure you know is Peter Block, who also believes in conversation, community, good questions,and circles. I heard him speak last weekend. One of his questions was “What are you angry about that no one knows about?”

      Thanks so much for coming back week after week and for not being afraid to dive deep.

      I love your question. It goes on the list!

      • Audrey Denecke on April 14, 2016 at 4:24 pm

        I so delight in life’s synchronicities!
        Yes, I do know Peter Block; not on a personal level yet privileged to be able to hear him speak at several O.D. events. And, I went through his firm’s consulting skills training. Oh, the energy of anger, what fertile ground to explore. Thanks for sharing his question.
        It is my pleasure to come here each week.

      • Audrey Denecke on April 14, 2016 at 4:30 pm

        Thank you for sharing Frost’s short poem! The wisdom in the center of the circle is a “secret” if we do not listen from deep within. Love it!

  5. Marla Longenecker on April 15, 2016 at 8:51 am

    My husband has been exploring this idea of beautiful questions, and “more beautiful questions.” He has found Warren Berger’s book, A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas, to be very useful for his work in medical education. Quoted on the fly leaf of the book is E.E. Cummings:
    Always the beautiful answer
    Who asks a more beautiful question

    • Shirley Showalter on April 15, 2016 at 10:40 am

      Hi Marla!

      Thanks so much for introducing me to Warren Berger’s book. It went directly from your comment to my requests for books next fall through the Collegeville Institute/St. John’s University library.

      I love how blogging connects us to friends far and near, virtual and real. I also love thinking of how a book like this could make medical education a better and deeper experience for both students and professors.

      Peace and joy,


  6. Tracy Lee Karner on April 15, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    What have you been given in life, that awakens deep gratitude in your heart?

    • Shirley Showalter on April 16, 2016 at 7:45 am

      Beautiful, Tracy. I like the emphasis on gift given. When we recognize gifts not of our making, gratitude flows much more freely.

      And it prompted in me another question, how much of a striver are you? Has it changed over time? Caused good? Caused harm? How do you feel about the striver in you now?

      Have any comment on that one? Actually, more than one. 🙂

      • Tracy Lee Karner on April 16, 2016 at 8:06 pm

        It prompts deep thought. Good questions for me right now. Sinking these into my journal and taking them into a spiritual reading process (thanks for pointing out this path–it looks like an interesting one to explore right now! <3 ).

        I'm taking steps to consciously transition into a less "driven" way of life. Very difficult, as, the "driving" is more external than internal, and I'm not particularly good at standing firm and defending my boundaries. But I'm learning, through practice, and I'm growing.

        I'm moving from a life of "measured time" to one of "liturgical time." This is helping me "strive" less, as it provides an external structure that constantly reminds me it's not MY efforts that accomplish good. Liturgical time is working something like a form in poetry. I find incredible, paradoxical freedom in form and structure.

        This from recent re-reading of Kathleen Norris' "The Cloister Walk: "Liturgical time is essentially poetic time, oriented toward process rather than productivity, willing to wait attentively in stillness rather than always pushing to 'get the job done.' "

        • Shirley Showalter on April 17, 2016 at 8:43 am

          I look forward to experiencing liturgical time literally next fall as I join the Benedictines in worship and bask in solitude on long walks. I have both striver and contemplative in me. My best self is my contemplative self but one that both forgives and embraces my striving self. Thanks for the lovely quote from Kathleen.

  7. Marylin Warner on April 15, 2016 at 11:04 pm

    Shirley, I tried and tried to get the pod cast, but I’m visiting my mom and have to use the community computer at her assisted living and it isn’t working for me. So I enjoyed the post and the comments, and when I get home I will come back to the pod.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 16, 2016 at 7:51 am

      DEAR Marylin,

      You have all the time in the world. If you can find a meditative place, you will enjoy more. But only if you have it. Caregiving is such an all-encompassing task.

      I think I love Krista’s interview with John O’Donohue even more than the one with David Whyte. Here’s the link to that one too. It’s an antidote to any bad day and takes you (well, it takes me) from a good day into euphoria.

  8. Janet Givens on April 18, 2016 at 9:53 am

    Shirley, your post has been with me for a few days now, making a marvelous backdrop (What would my question be?) as I clean out my barn and putter about other annual spring chores.

    Alas, the single beautiful question has not come. What did come, however, were two thoughts, constantly battling for supremacy. (1) I was reminded what I wrote into my “letter to be read upon my death” that I’ve tucked in with my Advanced Directive for my sons to read. In it I suggest that, if they decide they want someone to speak at my funeral, “let it be someone who is still asking questions… Rather than someone who believes they’ve got the answers.” For questions are what drive us, what energize us forward into the unknown. And yet, that brought me to my second thought:

    (2) I am still OK when I have no questions.
    Whyte spoke of “to live with that sense of trepidation — what I call beautiful trepidation — the sense of something about to happen that you’ve wanted, but that you’re scared to death of actually happening. [laughs] None of us really feel we deserve our happiness.” I’m not convinced of that last line, but I do understand that “beautiful trepidation” in the unknowing. I like to think of it as awe. And for me, that is the most miraculous gift we’re given. To experience awe. Perhaps I’m on my way to a question after all.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 18, 2016 at 10:04 am

      What “beautiful trepidation” indeed, Janet. Thank you for taking us inside your head and heart in this response. Your letter to your sons touches me, and I can only imagine how it will move them when the time comes to read it.

      Your last paragraph is so beautiful! From it, comes a question: what experience(s) have you had in your life that have produced awe?
      Are you okay with that reduction of your thought?

      Have you read The Cloud of Unknowing?

  9. Janet Givens on April 18, 2016 at 10:33 am

    What fills you with awe?

    How’s that? Thanks for the nudge. Two heads… and all that.

    I looked up The Cloud of Unknowing (love the title), but found myriad ones, all with different authors and publication dates. Send me more; if you’re recommending it, it’ll go on the quick list.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 18, 2016 at 11:20 am

      I like your version. Thanks!

      Here’s the wiki on the Cloud.

      It may not be your cup of tea. You might want to check it out of the library. But here is a Christian way, the via negativa, that may be one for our own time and for those who still ask questions no matter what their religious background.

  10. Elaine Mansfield on April 21, 2016 at 7:45 pm

    Thank you for pulling out gems for me, Shirley. My hearing makes listening a struggle right now and I don’t have the physical reserves to push against this dizzy-deafness at the moment. And along with this body trouble and my brother’s dying, I feel the youthful part of me present and curious. She planted peas and lettuce today. She appeared in my dream last night. She tossed a stick for Willow. She knows there is so much she does not know, but she trusts she’ll figure it out.

    Ah, my one beautiful question is informed by the witnessing and attending I did with my brother earlier this week. “What gifts have you left the world?” I have a few hundred more questions, but I’ll stay with this.

    And, Janet Givens, I think silence may be the deepest question of all. We simply wait for the soul to reveal itself.

    • Shirley Showalter on April 22, 2016 at 9:09 am

      Elaine, I am so sorry to hear your brother has died. Another loss for you. My heart is sad.

      Thanks you for this beautiful question. I go now, silently, to see what you have written about your brother.

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