The courage to heed your calling
Till the fertile paradoxes of embracing life's larger purposes.
Recently, my daughter told me that one of the nuns who student-taught at her school was being assigned to live out the mission of her order in another locale.
As I tried to explain to my 13-year-old, her teacher's move is part of the discipline of a community-based life vowed to holiness, self-sacrifice and service.
The notion of a calling that transcends personal ambition or financial gain is foreign to our contemporary American landscape, where the concept of workplace stability is becoming archaic, employee loyalty a quaint anachronism and the notion of a "common good" the province of cloistered academicians.
Yet around us we see the psychological and spiritual cost of a society that chases the chimera of increased productivity, ranking it above individual worth and self-respect.
Layoffs, reassignments, and the exodus of talent from industries in transition exact a toll that isn't confined to the victims.
It is time to rediscover the ancient, sacred notion of vocation.
As a newly minted Christian convert in my teens, and then as an idealistic young Episcopal priest, I thought that professing a vocation, a particular call made by God to serve in the world, was a choice made once in a lifetime.
Then I began to observe older clergy grappling with disillusionment or complacency as what had once seemed new and inspiring had became routine and dutiful. Their struggles served as a warning - and as a lesson.
Whether we wear a clerical collar, a nurse's uniform, or an imported silk tie to work, we should always be asking ourselves not only how our work fulfills us, but also whether it is truly making a difference in the lives of those we profess to serve.
Not a comfortable notion, is it?
Nor should it be.
Even a brief encounter with the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures tells us that acquiring a purpose is no walk on the beach.
Rather reluctantly answering God's call to lead the Hebrew people out of Egypt into freedom, Moses endured 40 years of squabbling and complaining, and died before seeing the Promised Land.
It is no wonder that the Hebrew prophets weren't always joyful about afflicting the comfortable and comforting the afflicted; such activities were not only frequently unpleasant, but also dangerous.
With a "yes" to the Angel Gabriel, Mary accepted a call to bear the incarnate Christ and to watch the son she loved condemned and executed as a common criminal.
Exploring one's vocation - a purpose broader, deeper and higher than a particular job or set of circumstances - does not guarantee stability or a comfortable life.
I have been challenged, and moved, as I watched an old friend on a vocational pilgrimage consciously step well outside her comfort zone. A Catholic with an inclination towards social-justice ministry, my friend, Jackie, kept questioning herself and her calling.
A few years ago, Jackie lost her husband. The months of grieving that followed were also an occasion for deep reflection. Last summer, she left her home in Vermont, and moved to Detroit for a year to volunteer with Mercy Corps.
Adjusting to community life was occasionally painful, and sometimes frustrating. But over the last nine months, Jackie's e-mails have expressed growing confidence about her abilities and the joy of being "part of the local color, part of the community."
Contemplating the future a few months ago, she asked for prayers that she would be where she ought to be, when she needs to be there.
"I trust that if I keep God before me . . . I will no longer be afraid of my life wherever I live it," she wrote me recently.
Fulfillment in willing service.
Freedom in embracing discipline.
Security in the midst of change.
These are the fertile paradoxes of embracing a purpose larger than our own well-being.
Think what we could do to heal ourselves, and our society, if we embrace our callings and use our unique talents to renew ourselves and help heal the world.
Ponder what will happen to us, and to our culture, if we don't.
It's a slam dunk. Isn't it?