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I am not talking about occupation, just to be clear.

The etymology of vocation goes back to the middle ages and has its roots in vocacioun which loosely means “summons.” Others often use the term “calling.” As soon as that word comes along, people get all religious about it: called to be a pastor or a priest or a nun. It’s some spooky thing a person hears and is led to sacrifice and surrender. I remember the first time I heard about calling after becoming a Christian and shook in my boots for fear of being called to Africa. (This is ironic now that I have delighted in volunteering at the Village of Hope in Zambia in recent years.)

self discoveryBut how does vocation manifest in the lives of regular people? Or does it? Is it a call from God even if the person is not a believer? There is no doubt in my mind that this is so. I can think of no other reason that a person would follow a passion for art (rarely accompanied by financial gain) or service to the poor and disenfranchised or an becoming an unpaid “first responder” or a master gardener or, of course, a true follower of the Christ (or as some now reference God: the Divine).

I have been reading a number of books lately that are catapulting me into my own search (despite my senior citizen status and my nearly 40 years as a believer). If anyone is interested, I recommend Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer, The Second Mountain by David Brooks, or The Gift of Being Yourself by David Benner, or Walking in Wonder by John O’Donohue. In one form or another, they discuss vocation in terms of self-discovery. But the most important feature in my mind is the idea that vocation (or giftings of the true self) are planted within and are waiting to pair with “need.”

All of these years, I have felt guilty for not actively taking my faith into the streets, befriending the homeless, feeding the poor, visiting the elderly or sick, serving in prison, or teaching children. These are all such wonderful good works. Out of that guilt, I have dabbled in all of these, but I have never really connected to the work. These are all great needs. In fact, our world will never lack need for human compassion and outreach. At one time or another, we all need help, we all fall or fail or suffer. And there will always be people who have it worse than us, whose lives teeter on the brink of death or survival.

What is my vocation in the face of need? What is specifically the perfect match between who I am and what my unique self can bring to the table of scarcity? Day by day, I rest in the certainty of threads being woven together, not just for what lies ahead but also incorporating what has already gone before. Nothing is wasted in God’s time.

“Today I understand vocation quite differently–not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice “out there” calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice “in here” calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.”  –Parker Palmer

“. . . because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” [2nd Timothy 1:12b

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I haven’t thought about these two terms as “entities” in a long time. Are they same or different? There are unique Hebrew and Greek words for them and I am aware the Bible uses them both in a variety of ways. As I read a variety of contemplative books, I see a score of variations. But, right now, I want to know what I believe or experience. Do I need to “know?”

Webster’s doesn’t help much, defining spirit as “an animating or vital principle held to give life to physical organism,” or “the immaterial intelligent or sentient part of a person” while soul comes up as “the immaterial essence, animating principle, or actuating cause of an individual life.” Both of these definitions like the words “animating” and “immaterial.” Of course, I already knew that.

When I look up diagrams, several pictures bubble to the top: concentric circles with spirit in the middle, Venn diagrams with overlapping circles, individual circles with arrows between them, and stacked circles within a body. Take your pick.

 

I can remember sitting under some pastors along the way who made this all sound conclusive, but it felt unattainable, as though holiness was a magic ring on a merry go round that I had to reach for, every time I went around. As a young believer, the message was “accept Jesus and boom! you’re good.” Later, “ask for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit and you’re completely covered.” But then, along came “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” [Philippians 2:12-13] or “consecrate yourself to God,” [Romans 12:1], or, “you have been chosen through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit and to be obedient to Jesus Christ,” [I Peter 1:2]. Obedience, discipline, commitment, long-suffering. And all because I was wondering about the soul and spirit.

Here’s the end result of all this cacophony according to me . . . today.

Soul and Spirit dwell together and they inform each other. They can be small or large, luminous or dusky. They can operate autonomously or as one. They can sing. They can work with the Holy Spirit when they are open. They are not gender specific all the time. My soul can be a curmudgeon. My spirit never is. My soul can be goofy. My spirit waits. They both exult at the Presence of God. They both worship. They both need rest under the wings of God. [Are those really wings? Of course not, but my soul finds comfort there and my spirit is succored there.]

For this reason, I know, the ways of God are a mystery. And my soul dwells there in Spirit.

milky way soul and spirit

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While practicing Lectio Divina over the weekend, I found myself reading
Numbers 21:4-5:

“They traveled from Mount Hor along the route to the Red Sea, to go around Edom. But the people grew impatient on the way; they spoke against God and against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? There is no bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” ” [NIV]

impatienceAnd I immediately knew that “impatient” was the operative word for me. Impatience does not happen in the twinkling of an eye. It’s a process and literally, has steps along the way and thought patterns that culminate into full blown impatience. Here are just a few of the steps I discovered about myself.

  • I make assumptions about the destination and how long it will take to get there. This can be anything from walking my three-year-old grandson to the car to waiting for my lunch to be delivered at a restaurant. But it can also have a spiritual element: practicing silence (not 20 minutest yet??) or noting my unanswered prayers. 
  • I make assumptions of what I will or will not encounter. Why would I imagine that a “quiet time” would really be quiet: I live where cars, garbage trucks, pets, and a toddler manifest at will. 
  • I have often misunderstood the plan. How many times did I think I would be picked up at a certain time and discover it’s the wrong day? And how many times have I thought God wanted me to experience one moment when it was something altogether different? 
  • I don’t always recognize the early stages of impatience in my heart: it starts as a grumbling, like a gnawing hunger. At this point, there are no words, just a churning or frothiness within. 
  • Eventually, my grumbling becomes words, either out loud or in my head. I can rarely assuage the onslaught of impatience once words are formed. If anything, I’m digging in. Words make impatience stronger. 
  • My worst cases of impatience result in total disdain for “what is” and consequently, I miss what other thing could be born from the moment.
  • My personal inconvenience drives everything. It’s not long before hyperbole rules the day: How dare . . . ; I will NEVER . . . ; I hate . . . ; This ALWAYS . . .! And so on. The litany has its own rhythms and like the Baby Shark song, will not relent. 
  • As I review my episodes of impatience, whether with God or people, I can attest that I am no better than the Israelites. I complain, I lament, I give evidence of why I am justified in these feelings, and soon, I am ready to turn back. Whatever was awful before seems better than the way things are now. I think to myself, “if I can just avoid this situation, I will feel better. Life will be easier.” I’ll have that “old time religion.” 

gratefulRepercussions can develop from impatience that are more wretched than the original. Must I carry on until the “venomous snakes” (Numbers 21:6) show up before I repent? Or, can I breathe into the onslaught of impatient feelings and counter them with gratitude? 

That is the remedy, by the way. Just a simple expression of gratitude and acceptance. If I am surrendered to God, and believe God’s love for me, then really, is it too much to ask of myself to acknowledge the circumstances and walk them out? I want to say “yes, thanks,” and then see what happens. 

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God’s Voice

Many years ago, I remember hearing an audio tape from a Christian teacher entitled “How to hear God’s Voice.” I don’s remember much of the message actually, but I do remember how anxious I was to get there–to hear God’s voice.

Since then, I’ve figured out a couple of things.

First of all : listening. For a person like me who often has to talk just to figure out what she’s thinking, listening has never been my strong suit. Being a natural “over-lapper,” most people find it a challenge to get a word in edgewise. And then, as I age, I’ve found myself repeating myself, particularly if the signals I’m getting from the listener do not correspond with my expectations (in other words, let me say this another way and maybe you’ll agree with me then). None of these strategies work too well when communing with God.

Secondly, God’s voice doesn’t necessarily mean words. Having thought for so many years that I would “hear” instructions in well-formed sentences was truly a blind alley. Now, I’m specifically speaking of God’s voice in prayer not while reading sacred text. This discovery has come recently while practicing Lectio Divina with Psalm 29, which outlines a series of descriptions for the “voice of the Lord.” In some ways, it seems to contradict I Kings 19:11-13, in which Elijah learns of the “still small voice” of God. But I don’t think they are at odds at all. Simply put, the voice is in living things, both loud and whispers, whatever is needed by the listener.

“The voice of the Lord is over the waters,” (Ps 29:3) just as the Christ walked over the waters and called to Peter in the boat (Matthew 14:25-29) to come. For me, the waters have been the fray of my daily life, both good and bad, but always just a little chaotic and frenzied. I am discovering that the best way to rise above cacophony of life is in the silence within.

The voice of the Lord is always there.

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Since I retired in December, I’ve been traveling quite a bit. I felt a rare freedom to go and do as I wanted. I have been to Zambia, to California and the Pacific Coast Highway, Denver, Estonia, and even back home to Indianapolis for a 50th high school reunion. Gods timeEach place has a story and now a memory. But it’s time to take a breath. A real breath. It’s time to examine “here.”

In some ways, I sound a bit like my 91 year old mother, just months before she died, she wondered aloud, “What should I do for the rest of my life?” She still felt she had something to give and something to do. But for her, it was a dis-ease with her present.

I want to change that pattern. Before I venture into too many tomorrows, I want a better assessment of today.

I don’t want my next day to come out of a place of dissatisfaction, as though this moment is wanting. I desire this day to be full of the awareness of God and a confidence in the Holy Spirit within to enrich my inner being.

This week, I have been chewing on Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation : Following the Movements of the Spirit. As he says, it is time to convert chronological time into “kairos” or God’s time, where “past, present, and future merge in the present moment. . . The spiritual life, therefore, is not a life that offers a few good moments between the many bad ones, but an abundant life that transforms all moments of time into windows through which the invisible becomes visible.”

Jesus was able to “be” in any setting with every person because He could “see” beyond the surface of what he/she presented to the world. Just as the doctor can hear the beating heart through a stethoscope, Jesus could hear and see the fluttering soul.

Where is just another Here.

Well, that sounds a little bit like my old favorite show, Kung Fu, and me speaking like an Eastern mystic. That makes me laugh, Grasshopper.

But seriously, some pieces are falling into place and I am experiencing a type of contentment that I have not known before. From here, I will find my way.

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There is no redeeming value to resentment. From hate to exasperation to wrath, there’s not a synonym in the group that I should want to practice. And yet. . .

But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient . . . [2 Timothy 2:23-24, NKJV] In the NIV in verse 24 says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.

I have discovered that resentment is right up there with disappointment. They have the same root in the heart. They are both married to expectations and ultimately “control.” I am resentful when things don’t go the way I expect them to go. I am disappointed when things don’t turn out the way I had dreamed they would. As though I know what is the best way, the best time, the best outcome.

There is nothing wrong, I think, in dreaming and hoping for a particular end result or a good conclusion, but the trick is integrating the reality that does not line up with the dream.

We all want perfect children with straight “A’s” and exquisite manners. We can model these behaviors and teach and tutor and guide. But guess what? Things don’t always work out. And if that child/spouse/friend/colleague does not perform accordingly, what is our response? Resentment or patient love?

Patience is love. And love is patience. [Love is patient, love is kind. I Corinthians 13:4]

I can remember other believers warning me (jokingly – sort of) never to pray for patience for God will allow all kinds of challenging events to come along to “try” this patience, to grow patience, to practice patience. But never did I think about patience as love itself. Of course, we should ask for/pray for/practice patience in the same way we ask to love, to forgive, to be compassionate etc.

In the last year or so, I have been indulging a boatload of resentment for my circumstances. I live in a small house and have very little personal space. My adult daughter and her 21 month old son live with me. They dominate the environment. I love my family, of course, I say, but I also resent their habits, their noise, their choices, their impacts. So, is that love?

Resentment is a nice word for hate. And that is unacceptable. Ever. Lord forgive me.

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Boom!

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. [Matthew 6:6]

It’s only taken 30 some years for me to understand that prayer is mine. I mean, it’s between me and God and there is no “right” way to pray. Only if I pray as “me” can I ever hope to achieve the “pray without ceasing” intention. This discovery came out of my conversation with a spiritual director.

For too many years, I have placed prayer into a silo. This is my prayer time. These are my tools for prayer. These are the books I’ve read. These are the suggestions, instructions, recommendations on prayer.

I would never say, I need to get better at eating nor would I think I need more practice in sitting or standing or talking (my gift and my undoing). Historically, I have placed prayer in the arena of learning how to knit or play the piano or walk on stilts. I’ve allowed myself to believe that prayer is a skill. That is not the case. And with that understanding, a freedom descends upon me like a cool breeze.

I am already good at prayer. I just didn’t recognize it. I have all that I need to pray. I have all my imagination and breath and soul. I am a complete person. And for this reason, I am a praying being.

During that same conversation with Lorie, I kvetched about having a sweet time in prayer some days, but then I have to get up from my chair and enter my regular life. Good Lord Almighty. How has it come to that? This is me turning off the spigot.

Lastly, I believe I am seeing that any intentional time with God is a way of sending myself forward into the experiences of the next moment. It’s a springboard that can ground me.  “. . . in all I do, direct me to the fulfilling of your purpose, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.” Vaya con Dios.

 

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