Vocation – A Call to Mission

I’ve never written a blog before so instead of feeling intimidated by the task, I’m simply going to share with you what’s been on my mind of late especially around the question of vocation.

This interest in ‘vocation’ has come about mainly by my own struggles between where I am now and where my spirit is calling me – the tension between the ‘now’ and the ‘not yet’. This type of struggle always causes one to question – as Henri Nouwen says: “We need to live the questions of our lives both alone and in community, as we seek our mission in the world” (Nouwen 2011).

So what is vocation? Here are two definitions from a marvellous booked called “Let Your Life Speak” by Parker Palmer:

True vocation:

  • “is the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need” (Buechner 1993) .
  • “is something I can’t not do, for reasons I’m unable to explain to anyone else and don’t fully understand myself but that are nonetheless compelling” (Palmer 2000).

Why should vocation be part of a critically reflective Christian life? Henri Nouwen (2011) asserts that its “out of asking the right questions and living the questions, will come right actions”.

Before Jesus started His ministry he withdrew into the desert for forty days. While there He met not love, joy, peace but rather temptation, distress, hunger, all of which led to a finely honed focus and ministry of carrying out the will of the Father. On his return, Jesus is baptised, is acknowledged by the Father as His Beloved Son and then the work of Jesus’ ministry begins.

This is the template, I believe, for our Christian vocational journey – a cycle that calls us to the desert or a ‘desert’ that we create for ourselves by failing to listen to our ‘small still voice’. As Parker Palmer recounts in his book: “Lacking insight into my own limits and potentials, I had allowed ego and ethics to lead me into a situation that my soul could not abide” (Palmer 2000).

The desert experience is absolutely necessary for any spiritual growth for several reasons:

  • It calls one to confront the very thing one would rather avoid
  • From the chaffing away of old ways of seeing the world, one’s life and one’s ego, it produces that ‘pearl of great price’
  • “When we realise that the pain of the human search is a necessary growing pain, we can accept as good the forces of human spiritual development” (Nouwen 2011)
  • The desert causes us to ‘listen’ to hear the voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’
  • As we emerge from our deserts, we too are called to mission centred in our identity as the ‘Beloved’. “When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the chosen ones, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness” (Nouwen 1992)

There’s a wonderful poem called “Caminante” which means ‘walker’ in Spanish. Its basic premise is that the walker only has the steps s/he has to take and not a full picture of where one is going. However, on looking behind one can see ‘the wake’ or the path one has already taken.

So where am I now? I am that ‘Caminante’ (like everyone else!). Having travelled this road on more than one occasion, I know the ‘route’ in spite of the uniqueness of the current path I am travelling. The wisdom of those books to which I am drawn, also confirm or put language on my experience.

I do know that my soul is aching for a time “when the gift I give to the other is integral to my own nature, when it comes from a place of organic reality within me, it will renew itself – and me- even as I give it away” (Palmer 2000).

One thing is for sure, that while I may not know now where this journey is leading, the Lord wants me nonetheless “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly” (Micah 6:8).

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