A transcript of a retreat talk given by Trevor Miller.
One of God’s gifts to us as a Community is that we are all so very different – each of us a wonderfully complex mix of personhood, identity, giftedness, creativity, personality, and temperament. This is expressed in the context of the various roles, responsibilities and relationships that our uniquely ours. ‘One man’s meat is another man’s poison.’ ‘One women’s treasure is another women’s trash.’ In addition, we all live in diverse conditions and different circumstances, with different limitations and opportunities, varied levels of stamina, coping mechanisms, idiosyncrasies and inhibitions, strengths and weaknesses, hopes and fears that we take into each day of our lives. Wow?!
In such diversity, what is it that links it all together? Without doubt, one essential factor is an understanding of our inner spiritual journey in terms of our vocation. Vocation: from the Latin Vocare = to call, was used from earliest times as ‘a calling from God’ to work for Him, often only associated with those in so-called ‘full-time’ Christian service. However, monastic spirituality (from which we draw so much insight), would stress that our vocation, our calling, is simply to be, to be who you are, where God has placed you. So that, vocation is more about identity, personhood and life actually being lived, about you embracing and expressing you; so as to say from the heart in whatever situation or set of circumstances that constitutes everyday ordinariness for us, ‘this is me, this is where I belong, this is home’. So it’s not just your job or work situation but you, as God has uniquely made you. ‘Vocation,’ to paraphrase Dorothy Sayers ‘is not primarily a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do.’
A good example of this is found in the story recorded in John 1:35-39, where two men, Andrew and probably the writer, John, previously disciples of John the Baptist were introduced to Jesus as ‘the Lamb of God’. On the basis of this, they begin to follow Jesus but are stopped in their tracks when Jesus, aware of them following, turns and faces them with the question, ‘What do you want?’ ‘What are you looking for?
Now that’s a question and a half, especially when it is the Lord who is asking it of us. But it is constantly with us. We ask it everyday of our lives in the form of ‘Who is it that you seek?’ Imagine it – Jesus, aware that you are following – turns, looks you in the eye, and asks ‘what is it that you really want, what is your heart’s desire in following me? What is your vocation?
Andrew and John are thrown by the question but their answer is not only an accurate reflection of their heart but an important insight for all who would follow Jesus. They say ‘where are you staying?’ Where’s home? In effect, we want to stay where you are staying; we want to be at home with you, we want to feel comfortable with you. A reminder that ‘home is where the heart is’, where you can be yourself. It is traversing the landscape of the heart, with Jesus. As Jesus said in John 14:23 “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” Jesus said and still says ‘Come and see’ – come and join me on the journey.
This is the primary lesson to learn about vocation. To seek to be at home with God – who you are, where you are, what you are. It is being ‘attentive to our own distinctiveness’ because vocation is fundamentally a call to relationship with God. A call, not primarily to do, but to be. If we don’t embrace this truth then the busyness of spinning all the plates of work, study, home, family, church etc. will result in an inner disconnectedness, an inner fragmentation that leaves us all over the place, anywhere but at home in your heart. TS Eliot talked about finding ‘a still point in a turning world.’
This is the outworking of our vocation – not only to know where we belong but to actually live there, in our hearts – with Jesus. Henri Nouwen wrote about this in his influential book – Reaching Out. His observation was that more often than not we have an address but we can’t be found there, we are pulled in so many directions, and live as if we are homeless, never resting, uncomfortable, resentful, feeling abused.
It has to be as the Desert Fathers taught in saying, ‘Do not give your heart to that which does not satisfy your heart.’ Vocation is God is here, God is now, God is in this, and therefore I will be attentive to God in the ordinary and the mundane as the person He has uniquely made me. So, our vocation as Northumbria Community for instance, is an awareness that to live a new monasticism means we are committed to working with our hearts as well as our hands, exercising the soul in prayer, keeping company with God, seeking God in each other, as we live out the normality of our everydayness. It is really taking on board the prayer of Hild: Lord, show me the right seat; find me the fitting task; give me the willing heart.
Perhaps then we will grasp the truth of this wonderful passage from Nelson Mandela, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to manifest the glory of God within us. It is not just in some of us. It is in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
This is the heart of vocation.