“I don’t know what they do to the enemy, but by Gum they frighten me!” said the Duke of Wellington, as he reviewed his troops shortly before Waterloo. In the same way, I’m not sure in what ways yesterdays Quiet Day may have helped the MU members who came along, but it was hugely beneficial for me.
Thankfully, the weather relented, and it was the sort of perfect June day that makes it hard NOT to believe in a benevolent God smiling down on his world. It was a real blessing to be with this group on this day of all days, as there was a contingent from one particular church in the Deanery whose much loved, inspirational & visionary vicar had died the evening before, after a short but intense illness. So, before we even started the day, there was a lot of grieving to be done, and so much loss to be acknowledged and brought into the context of the Eucharist.
After that, I was very clear that no words of mine would be likely to have a tremendous impact,- which relieved me of several ton weights of anxiety,- but things fell into place as I talked, and it really did feel as if these were the right words for this group on this day.
Which makes it all the dottier that I’m proposing to post them here…really not sure why…except that I received such overwhelmingly positive feedback from those who were there, particularly those who had felt that they had no gift, no calling, that it seems plain pigheaded not to post…just in case anyone is feeling that way today.
I split the day into two…Part 1 was The Call, part 2 The Response.
On one level, this is something very simple. God calls each of us into a relationship with him. That’s what we’re for, the purpose of our being. As Augustine put it “Life is for love. Time is only that we may find God”
But for a relationship to be authentic, both sides must be fully themselves….and so Jesus calls us to discover who we really are, out true identity, that has very little to do with the way we spend our time, or the complicated webs of human relations that often seem to define us. We have to strip away all those alternative self definitions…which is both alarming and very hard work. But it’s the only thing that will really do, because He calls each one of us as his beloved child to discover just what that parent/child relationship really means
“I am come that you might have life in all its fullness”
For each of us, that will mean something very different, and it will certainly involve discovering our identity in God. This is at the heart of the concept of calling…and it’s something that applies to everyone.
I said that calling has little to do with occupation, but of course it is quite possible that God’s calling may find its fullest expression in a particular role or career. From this has emerged the idea that vocation only applies to a minority of people, among whom clergy and religious, doctors and teachers probably top the popular poll. It is part of the picture certainly, but it’s not the whole and certainly vocation extends beyond any of these traditional areas. It is the process by which we become our true selves in God, so the reality is that it is something that concerns each one of us.
“God sends each person into this world with a special message to deliver
A special song to sing for others
A special act of love to bestow.
No one else can speak my message
Or sing my song
Or offer my act of love.
These are entrusted only to me.” John Powell Through Seasons of the Heart
In other words, God has given each one of us something of value, some treasure that is our contribution to the life of the world….but too often this creative potential remains dormant, partly at least because we can’t believe that we ,might actually have anything to offer. We accept the limited framework that society affords and allow this to constrain us…We say that it’s only being sensible when we abandon our dreams and settle down into mediocrity. We don’t believe in ourselves enough to allow God to call out the treasures from within us, and when it comes down to it, we probably don’t have enough belief in God either.
We elect to live our lives on the purely practical plain,- and thus so many songs remain unsung.
I’d imagine that already some of you are mentally scratching your heads, or saying to yourselves
“It’s all very well for her. She’s fallen on her feet with ordination…but I’ve never had any sense that God is calling me to anything particular”
The first thing is to remember that calling need not be to something dramatic or glamorous. Your gift may be something as simple but life-enhancing as listening, or hospitality. It’s rare for great listeners to receive public acclaim, but their gift is one that makes the most enormous difference to the world,- for everyone has a story that deserves to be heard.
If you’re not at all sure what your gift might be, that can be a positive advantage. Starting from a place of uncertainty can be the most fruitful way to begin. After all, there’s nothing like being sure of your destination to ensure that you arrive only there, and nowhere else…which doesn’t leave much room for God to invite you to share in his creative dance.
For just a few moments, don’t focus on your obligations, the things that you feel are “givens” in your particular corner of the universe, and simply allow yourself to dream. Consider what brings you to life, and what deadens and depresses you.
There is a widespread myth among Christians that in “dying to self” in order to follow Christ, we must automatically turn our back on the very things that make our souls sing. However, there is a world of difference between saying No to selfish desires and wantonly refusing to engage in those activities that make us feel most fully ourselves, most fully alive.
Like Christian Aid, God believes in life BEFORE death.
We need to remember too that one call doesn’t invalidate those that went before….we may be called to a particular role at a particular time,- but we need to be ready and willing to move on when God demands this….Paul had surely believed he had a divine mandate to persecute the Christian church…but that call was turned on its head on the way to Damascus.
In the end, it is Paul who really gets the message about the nature of a call from God. Here he is writing in 1 Cor 11 26-28
“My friends, think what sort of people you are, whom God has called. Few of you are wise by any human standard, few powerful or of noble birth. Yet to shame the wise, God has chosen what the world counts as folly and to shame what is strong, God has chosen what the world counts as weakness. God has chosen those things without rank or standing in the world, mere nothings, to overthrow the existing order.”
The great thing about this mismatch between calling and apparent qualification is that it protects us from any sense that calling, and the gifts we are given to use in pursuit of it, somehow accrue to our own merit. We can’t even guarantee that they will always be ours…If Abraham saw the birth of Isaac as in any way a reward for his obedience in answering God’s call to leave home and family, and travel wherever God dictated, he was disabused of this idea when God asked him to prove that his relationship of obedience to God was the most important thing in his life. As he laid the fire and prepared to sacrifice his only son, he must have wondered what on earth obedience to the divine call had brought him. Was God determined to deprive him of the God-given means to live out his calling to be a father of many nations? Ultimately, of course, Abraham showed himself ready to trust God absolutely. By showing himself willing to sacrifice the dearest gift he had been given, he proclaimed himself ready above all to put God’s call first….above even the gifts we had planned to use for our calling.
We will have nothing special to offer, except for our willingness to be used and, though living out our calling may in due course make heart and soul sing, the immediate and rational reaction may be one of fear at the impossibility of the task ahead.
That’s no bad place to be, for God’s strength is made perfect in our weakness, and he meets us at the point of our need and offers himself to make good our deficiencies.