“Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling the who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live — but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.”
~ Parker Palmer
Those who are called to ministry as a vocation, a way of life to which they are totally committed, are doing something which is beyond choice. A calling is not a decision, it is far deeper than that. A calling may be in harmony with one’s inclinations or with society’s expectations, but that is often not the case. Often, a calling seems to be against everything one is seeking at the moment. Joseph Campbell wrote extensively on the denial of the call.
“If a person has had the sense of ‘The Call’ – the feeling that there’s an adventure for (them) – and if (they) doesn’t follow that but remains in the society because it’s safe and secure, then life dries up. And then he comes to a condition in late middle age: (they’ve) gotten to the top of the ladder and found that it’s against the wrong wall.
“If you have the guts to follow the risk, however, life opens, opens, opens up all along the line. I’m not superstitious, but I do believe in spiritual magic, you might say. If one follows what I call one’s bliss – the thing that really gets you deep in your gut and that you feel is your life – doors will open up. They do!”
~ Joseph Campbell
But following your calling is no guarantee of bliss either. What Campbell means by bliss is the experience of expressing your true self via some channel of expression that serves a larger purpose. But while that is not an easy thing to do, it beats living in the bitterness of a calling denied.
My dear friend and colleague, Rev. Linda Finley, of the Center for Spiritual Living Eugene (Oregon), recently posted something on Facebook about her calling to a vocation of ministry. A few quotes from that post:
“Of late, I have been realizing that, at some level, the role of a Minister/Pastor/Spiritual Leader is not wholly understood by a lot of folks. Choosing to serve in any ministry, and especially, I feel, pulpit ministry is not now and never has been “a job.” I keep coming up against folks who view it as such, and it is disheartening. When I was ordained, I went through a ceremony that, in a lot of ways, looked like a wedding – I exchanged vows with a teaching and pledged to hold my faith and that teaching sacred. My accountability and my allegiance is to God, then to the organization which licensed and ordained me and sets standards and practices for my work, then to the congregation that hired me to serve them, and finally, to whatever Board that congregation has elected at any given time.”
“When we were finishing Ministerial training, we were advised that if we had any other skills at all, we might look at those – maybe card dealing or insurance sales… as this was taking on a role that could be overwhelming and thankless. As I move into September, which marks my 19th year in Ministry, I am grateful I made the choice … I love what I do. I love the teaching, the speaking, the counseling, even the leadership meetings and events where my introvert self wants to find a corner to crawl into!”
Linda’s recognition of her calling may have come at any point in her life, but she entered ministry after an earlier career. This is often the case, either because our younger selves did not recognize our calling, or we ignored it because it seems inconvenient. Or, it can be that the calling arises later in life – midlife is often a time for this emergence.
“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.”
~ Mary Oliver
Ministry is creative work. It can be done in a multitude of settings, using a multitude of approaches. It does not have to be one’s livelihood; in fact, one often has a “job” to pay the expenses of following a calling which does not provide a living wage. As Mary Oliver echoes Joseph Campbell in reflecting on the denial of our calling, we can see the effects of this denial throughout our society – people in soul-crushing jobs, without spiritual direction, hating their lives because they have denied themselves the spark of expressing one’s true calling in this life.
Many in ministry today are struggling to see how their calling relates to the changes unfolding in our society; changes which make ministry very unpredictable and call for a greater consciousness of innovation and willingness to let go of what no longer works.
“The church of yesterday cannot meet the needs of today, nor be prepared to adapt to the needs of tomorrow. ‘The past is the past…,’ no matter how wonderful. Precious memories are just that…precious and memories. We must look to the future if we are to continue to be faithful to our calling.”
~ Rev. Dr. Grant Lynn Ford, Metropolitan Community Church
My prediction is that these changing times are more of a challenge to those who see ministry as a job and do not have a true calling to the work. To those who did not experience the transformation of the “wedding,” via ordination, of oneself to the expression of the calling – perhaps because there was no calling to ministry to begin with. There is no shame in realizing that one is not following their calling – but to continue along that same path once that realization has dawned is to court an empty life. Harsh but true.
Only you know what your calling is – ministry is my focus, but you can be called to anything which calls forth the best of yourself and is in service to something larger. Everyone has a calling, and it may shift over your lifespan. The key is to be open to the signs which your psyche, your mind, and your body will give to you. And follow them.
Copyright 2018 – Jim Lockard