Classic descriptions of call
In Faith affirmations
• The poet Rainer Maria Rilke in his book, Letters to a Young Poet, uses powerful, evocative language to try to help a young man discern a vocation to be a poet. Rilke wrote:
There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple "I must," then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
• Frederick Buechner is an author often quoted on the subject of vocation. He offers the following definition of vocation in his book, Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC:
There are different kinds of voices calling you to different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to do is work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world needs most to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
• Writer, biblical scholar and minister Reneeta Weems offers a woman's view of wrestling with issues that are essentially vocational. In the introduction of her book, Showing Mary, she offers this description:
You are on the verge of something special. You know it. You can feel it. Something is in the air. You are restless and don’t know why. You wake up in the morning with flutters in your stomach even though your calendar doesn’t indicate any special meetings scheduled for the day. Your mind is racing from thought to thought, and you can’t figure out why. A voice in you won’t be quieted, but you can’t quite make out what it is saying. You wonder if you’ve forgotten something but you’ve forgotten what. Nothing has happened or is about to happen. But it is, and you sense it. Today is not the first time you’ve felt like this. This feeling has been coming in waves, off and on, for some time. You’re on the verge of giving birth and don’t know it.
• Here is a definition from the great Roman Catholic monk and poet Thomas Merton:
Each one of us has some kind of vocation. We are all called by God to share in His life and in His Kingdom. Each one of us is called to a special place in the Kingdom. If we find that place we will be happy. If we do not find it, we can never be completely happy. For each one of us, there is only one thing necessary: to fulfill our own destiny, according to God's will, to be what God wants us to be.
• These words are from Sharon Daloz Parks:
The Dream, with a capital D... has a quality of vision. It is an imagined possibility that orients meaning, purpose, and aspiration....
• William H. Myers describes call from an African American perspective:
The call to ministry begins as a story; a story of an encounter between an individual and God … the claimant comes to the community of faith for confirmation. At this point the story is transformed into narrative in order to persuade the community of the authenticity of the call. The difference between story and narrative is not necessarily to be seen as error or deception; rather, story is an individual’s attempt to wrestle, as did Jacob and Paul, with God and self, and later narrative is the attempt to explain the transformative encounter in a way that makes sense to others; it is retrospective interpretation.
• Finally, here are the words of Parker Palmer from his book, Let Your Life Speak:
Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live – but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.
Spend time with these authors’ words. Which resonate with you? Which do not? Are you aware of an intersection in your life between your deepest joy and the world’s deepest hunger? What does that intersection look like for you? Spend time thinking and praying about the things you care for most – things that bring you joy, activities and values you hold dear. What did you want to be when you were little? How is that a reflection of some of your values? What do these things tell you about the life God wants to live in you?