At the beginning of this series on vocation, I set some pretty lofty goals — to do nothing less than address the questions, Who am I? and Why am I here? What we’ve seen the past few weeks is that these questions of identity and meaning originate from the deepest parts of ourselves that long to answer the call of the God who created us. This call, which we call ‘vocation’, is like a series of overlapping spheres, like nesting dolls, involving questions of what it means to be human, what it means to be a disciple of Jesus, what it means to be mature, to be truly myself, and to contribute to the broader good of society in the manner best suited to who I am. The nesting dolls image is helpful, because these different levels of calling aren’t contradictory, but rest within each other. If I am called to teach or to nurture or to lead, that is going to be an expression of my true self and the arena in which I will grow up in maturity, which will reflect the way of Jesus that is the revelation of true humanity.
But all of these layers of vocation must be lived out in a world that is far from ideal. For reasons beyond our control, we may not be able to pursue our vocation in exactly the ways that seem ‘best’ to us. This is frustrating to be sure, but is to be expected in a world whose ways are so far from God’s ways. If we imagine our vocational world as a vast hall filled with practically infinite doors, the reality is that for many of us, many if not most of the doors will be closed to us before we even get there. Some of these will be shut because something in our nature means they are not for us, some because some outside force shuts them on us, whether through a proper exercise of authority, oppression, or violence, and still other because of life and world situations out of anyone’s control. Closed doors aren’t fun but they are helpful in their own way. Parker Palmer tells the story of being frustrated with the Quaker platitude, “Have faith and the way will open.” Expressing this to one of the group’s elders, she replied: “In sixty-plus years of living, way has never opened in front of me. … But a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect” (Let Your Life Speak). When it comes to figuring what we are to do, a closed door is as good as an open one.
Because our vocations can be practically lived out in many ways, often hearing God’s call is less about what precisely we are doing than it is about how we do it. A common image for this in Eastern Orthodoxy is the idea that we are all called to be priests of our lives. As Paul Evdokimov noted (quoted in Vigen Guroian’s Melody of Faith):
In the immense cathedral which is the universe of God, each man [sic], whether scholar or manual laborer, is called to act as the priest of his whole life — to take all that is human, and to turn it into an offering and a hymn of glory.
What a beautiful image this is! It frames vocation as an act of worship rather than ‘work’. And I think it’s a perfect place to end this series.
May we all, in the varied and often difficult circumstances of our lives and in the rough-and-tumble of community, refine the acoustics of our hearts to hear clearly what God is calling us to do and how God is calling us:
- to be human — being God’s representatives in and for the world and honouring the image of God in each other
- to be Christlike — following Jesus’ humble path of life lived for the good of the community
- to be mature — growing up into the full stature of our humanity
- to be ourselves — being precisely the person we were created to be
- to contribute — offering up our gifts, energy, and time, for the building up of community