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Hallo again to all.

'What do you want to be when you grow up?' It's likely that many of us heard that question when we were just leaving behind baby talk. If we answered at all, instead of screaming and hiding under the dining-room table, we likely responded based on our childhood-limited universe: 'Teacher', 'Doctor', 'Firefighter', and so on. But the very asking of the question impressed on all of us the importance of vocation from a young age.

So having grown up, as we all do, it takes only a few minutes in casual conversation with a new acquaintance before the question surfaces: 'So what do you do?' It's as if we cannot continue a chat with someone until we know about their daily work. And unless we're a member of the few professions that still require a uniform (or we are a jockey or a sumo wrestler), outward appearances often give little clue about the nature of our occupations. Call again - an old cigar box cover

We've been musing lately about the question of work, of profession, of occupation, of vocation. Did most of us stumble into the work we do after trial and error? ('Alas, physics is not for me'...) Or have some of us single-mindedly pursued a profession, having known from the age of seven that landscape gardening was our calling?

There's that word: 'calling'. Used almost exclusively with regard to Holy Orders, it seems to divide the world, through a non-Christian dualism, into the called and the, well, non-called. We don't often seem to think that God calls people to be pipe-fitters or portrait painters; that's their work, not their calling. The more we thought about this, the more grumbly we became.

In an ideal world, all of us would find well-compensated, satisfying work that matched their interests and abilities. But, alas, many of us labour at some tedious daily occupation, perhaps earning a reasonable wage, whilst our heart is somewhere else entirely. We can't wait to 'get off work' so we can make a window box, work on our antique Morgan, grow epiphytes, or play football. It is the rare person in this rough-and-tumble global economy who would continue to do what she does, even if she weren't paid for it. No doubt part of this split between the-work-that-we-do and that-which-we-love began with the growth of industrial societies, when people began to be separated from the direct results of their work. Since then, 'work' has become the norm and 'vocation' the rarity.

Do we reinforce this in the church by (perhaps unintentionally) fostering a secular and sacred divide? In most of our national churches, the decision to pursue Holy Orders invokes a lengthy and arduous process, encompassed by questions, testing, discernment, examination, and involving some mystery and possibly heartbreak if one is denied. On the other hand, there is no 'process' by which one becomes a member of the laity; one is born such, at baptism. There is no testing, no guidance, no clear path for study to become a more proficient lay person. There is no uniform, there are no letters following one's surname. But living into the lay life, we dare suggest, is more complex than living under the explicit 'orders' of Christian ministry. Not better, not worse, just more complex.

All of us are called to put our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls to the best possible use for God. It's very likely that most of us can't align our calling to our daily work. Be grateful if you can. But once we discover what it is and where it is and with whom we are when we're our truest selves*, that is indeed our calling. All of us claim it in baptism; we just need to take it from there. Somehow. In a complex and post-Christian world, that in itself is no easy calling.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid


Last updated: 14 March 2004

*Our favourite shorthand question to explore your calling is this question: In what circumstances are you the most 'you'? The theologian Frederick Buechner phrased it this way: 'The place where your deep gladness meets the world's deep need'.

A thin blue line
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