I think about ‘calling’ a lot, particularly mine. ‘Calling’ as in the combination of activity and presence that is uniquely yours, that you have a responsibility to do (because of its uniqueness), that God calls you to do.
I think about my calling a lot because my…what’s the current phrase?…multipotentiality offers me a wide array of possible activities. Bluntly, I am good at many things, most of them unrelated to each other, and some of them mutually exclusive in practice. Struggling with an embarrassment of choices has been a difficulty starting in my teen years, when the world and my own reasoning pointed out that, while I might do a variety of things, I would likely need to do them one (or a few) at a time. I found it easy to set aside the viola. Other choices have been more obscure.
Last week I fished out one of my favorite ‘calling’ quotes: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” —Frederick Buechner
which is where I’ve always centered myself in my lifelong search to fulfill my calling. After all, “do what you enjoy AND are good at” is what career counselors always recommend, and there’s nothing in Scripture to contradict it. It also fits in nicely with the Jewish understanding of God as one who provides delights and pleasures for his creatures, whether they’re flowers, cute lizards, wine, or satisfying work.
For about a decade, my work with computers mostly fit that frame. The care and feeding of computers required nearly endless learning, and wisely braiding together the flows of short-, medium-, and long-term activity exercised my plan-loving brain. I never looked at it with a deep gladness, but I found it pleasant enough…and it sure as heck paid well. Which is a way of identifying one of the world’s hungers!
After that, though, I’ve felt that I was waiting. On hold for Something Else, even while I did good work well. And as A & B finished high school, I became more and more convinced that part of my faith-discipline while waiting was to start stepping out into possibilities without waiting for a clear sense of where my steps would take me. I dreamed of driving on a freeway, up a steep hill into a web of interstate interchanges, light blazing through the windshield so my eyes were dazzled. And a voice telling me I would be fine. OK, then: full speed ahead into fine.
At the same time and all along my life in faith, I remained and remain aware that not all callings are pleasant. And that discerning one’s calling can be surrounded by…nothing. No pointing fingers of flame, no rushing wind, no voice in the ear to say, “Pick that! That is what you should do.” Just a step forward, and another, and another. So Scorsese’s Silence intrigued me mightily: not for the depictions of martyrs, but for the articulation of one person’s struggle to understand God’s will as superimposed on one life. My Sweetie and I saw it Saturday.
Walking into worship on Sunday, I see our sermon is titled, “The Call.” Well, well, well. So this is my “page” for the week?
Before we got to the lesson, though, we were singing “Oceans,” whose image of keeping eyes above waves (I think of the nose just below, sporadically submerged in salt water) always resonates with me. Though this time my mind’s eye replayed a scene from Silence, where the 16th century Japanese Christ-followers are tied to crosses in the deep surf as the tide comes in. Keeping their eyes up did not stop their lives from leaving their bodies. Yet it was clear to them that this was where God called. Through torture, and a slow death. How is this even a thing? as A might say.
Though it’s far (far!) from martyrdom, I still haven’t been able to wrap words around my experience of That Contract in 2015…the coup de foudre (thunderbolt? flash?) of the start, the click and sparkle as I got underway, the drain and ebb, the dragging ache…and most of all, my confusion. I continually talked with my Maker. I would sing, “Spirit, lead me where my trust is without borders. / Let me walk across the water, / Wherever you would call me.” I have a memento from a contemplative service during that time: an orange card with a key tied to it, “trust without borders” in careful letters. It sat, and sits, on my desk.
Isn’t part of “trust without borders” to follow through on activities that aren’t fun or pleasant? But then, where does “deep gladness” go? As I get ready to step once again onto a path covered in fog, is this God’s design? Will I be glad to travel this path?
Will I be glad even if I take no delight in the work?
For the moment, at least, I will stand here: