Vocation…

Yesterday I received my redundancy letter. It was not a surprise- it has been two years plus in the writing. Neither was it entirely without choice, I have decided not to accept offers of alternative employment within the social work department.

Which brings me to this word-vocation, defined in the dictionary as

vo·ca·tion

[voh-key-shuhn]  Show IPA

noun

1.

a particular occupation, business, or profession; calling.
2.

a strong impulse or inclination to follow a particular activityor career.
3.

a divine call to God’s service or to the Christian life.
4.

a function or station in life to which one is called by God: thereligious vocation; the vocation of marriage.

But also defined here like this;

The idea of vocation is central to the Christian belief that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life. In the broadest sense, as stated in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, “Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being” (CCC 2392). More specifically, in the Orthodox and Catholic Churches, this idea of vocation is especially associated with a divine call to service to the Church and humanity through particular vocational life commitments such as marriage to a particular person, consecration as a religious, ordination to priestly ministry in the Church and even a holy life as a single person. In the broader sense, Christian vocation includes the use of one’s gifts in their profession, family life, church and civic commitments for the sake of the greater common good.

I entered social work as a vocation. It was almost a priestly thing for me. This might be difficult for others to understand-it is not as though social work has a status that might be seen to deserve respect. But there are lots of parallels- both are concerned with pastoral care, both are (or were) driven by higher ideas and ideology, both are embedded in institutions in the main.

To leave a vocation is no easy matter.

Reading through the second definition of the word (above) I wonder about this suggestion that God has created each person with gifts and talents oriented toward specific purposes and a way of life. This reminds me too much of old conversations about some kind of plan that God has written for each of us in some kind of massive ledger, and woe betide us if, like Christian in Pilgrims progress, we step off the golden path into some kind of career apostasy.

Such determinism has little place in my understanding of our pilgrim journeys, but we all make choices, even if the choice is to not change a thing. I do not know clearly what my vocation is at the moment. I have some clues of course- if I was to get to the very heart of things, it would be to create- to write words that inspire and shape the thinking of others. Whether this is a realistic vocation now has to be tested!

But this bit of the definition above I can stand on firmly;

Love is the fundamental and innate vocation of every human being”

And the application of this in the ways that we come to live, this is the long road that we Christian pilgrims have to travel.

Travel well…

Postcards from the western fringe 4- footpaths…

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I took this walk out along the coast towards Bosta.

It was lovely. Wind coming in from the sea, sun shining through scudding clouds.

And I started thinking about footpaths. And theology.

It started with a boggy patch- you know the sort- a lush patch of green that looks all firm and supportive, but turns out to be a cunning thin skin over a foul boot sucking bog. Such things always remind me of Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Christian wending his way on the journey of life, until he leaves the path again, and falls into the slough of despond.

It seemed to me that this way of understanding the walk of faith weighed on me for years. It is based on a view that God has proscribed paths for all of us, and should we step to the left or the right of it then well betide us. The best we could hope for, like Bunyan’s Christian, is to stumble back out of the wilderness back onto the golden path…

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Now paths are useful things, as long as

  • You know where you are going
  • The destination is the object of the journey
  • Others have been there before and marked the journey well

But what I found in my spiritual journeying was that the linear, proscribed paths I grew up with became no journey at all. What Bunyan’s followers handed down to me was a spirituality that mapped and measured the life out of each step. A Spirituality that had all the signposts, but had lost all the adventure. That became fixated on the destination, not the joy in the moment, and the companionship of the road.

Walking the mountains of Scotland, as opposed to England, means contending with a much wilder country. The few footpaths are faint, and easily confused with animal tracks. Making your way over rough land is hard work. But these landscapes are no mere backdrop to be drawn past the journey- they are the very place were we encounter the quickening that comes from being tested, inspired and humbled by real wilderness.

The old well trodden spiritual paths are falling out of use. People no longer appear to believe the old signposts, nor are attracted by the destination.

Perhaps the analogy of faith as footpath to be mapped and trod is a poor one. It certainly lacks something for me.

Perhaps the useful analogy should be less focussed on destination, and more on encounter, adventure and dependence. Of moving outwards, looking for the traces of Jesus and listening for the whisper of the Spirit in the wind and the waves.

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But in this wild country, we still need pioneers. We still need to connect with others who walk in the way…

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