‘Vocation’ on the journey of faith
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness
and the world’s deep hunger meet.
Frederick Buechner, from Wishful Thinking, A Theological ABC
In our world the concept of ‘vocation’ is often assigned to a person’s employment or main occupation, with an affirmation that if one feels a sense of vocation in his/her work, a genuine sense of value and dedication will be assigned to that work. Sometimes the word ‘vocation’ is simply another word for a trade or profession.
‘Vocation’ is also used in relation to the religious community when defined as a call to do something, such as a call to attend seminary and seek ordination, a call to an order within the Roman Catholic community or a call to serve charitable endeavors. Those stations in life often speak of the sense of vocation which undergirds that call.
I am convinced, however, that a sense of vocation is at the heart of the journey of faith for every member of the Body of Christ. We all have a vocation in that sense, and it may not have much to do with our daily work/occupation.
I have great memory of Elmer Bostwick, a mail carrier in Centerville, Indiana, a very small town near my home in Richmond, Indiana at the time. Elmer was our Boy Scout scoutmaster, and his dedication to the boys in our troop was deep and generous. He mentored many of us as we learned and grew together, and Elmer had a special love for camping with our troop along Elkhorn Creek, a tributary of the Whitewater River. An outdoorsman all his life, he taught us to pitch our camp, to build a fire and cook over it, and to be properly outfitted for hiking and for the weather, even in the bitter cold of winter. He was genuinely proud of each of us when we accomplished our ranks in scouting. When I was 16 and completing the requirements for my Eagle Scout award, Elmer was preparing to step down after many years as our troop’s scoutmaster. I remember him being so proud of me at my Eagle Court of Honor. After the ceremony, with tears in his eyes, he presented me with his personal camp knife and hatchet set as he prepared to complete his leadership with scouting and step down. His influence on my life as a teenager is still important to me decades later.
Elmer Bostwick the mail carrier had a sure sense of vocation in his work with scouting. In the spirit of Buechner’s little reflection above, as a scout leader Elmer’s deep gladness intersected with the world’s deep hunger. I was among the many who benefitted from his commitment to that vocation over the years.
The full section of Frederik Buechner’s writing on vocation follows. It is my offering to you on this humid Wednesday afternoon in August:
It comes from the Latin ‘vocare,’ to call, and means the work that one is called to by God.
There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all 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 is the kind of work
- that you need most to do and
- that the world most needs to have done.
If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement b).
On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are that you have not only bypassed a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.
Neither the hair shirt nor the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet. 1
In this time of societal distancing and pandemic separation, I have heard from many in our life together as a congregation who are reflecting on the things that matter, the things that are most important, and the things which seem so much less significant in the midst of this obligatory retreat. I would encourage you to include a reflection on vocation in your pondering and prayer, focusing on the place of intersection between the work that you need to do and the work that the world most needs to have done . . .
Blessings to you, O people of Trinity. May you be safe, may you be well, and may you be held in love.
It remains a privilege to serve as one of your pastors.
Grace and peace,
Pastor Robert Linstrom