Tuesday, 18 November 2008

And called again

It is the reality of our being called that makes the difference: not only that we are indeed being called, but that the call itself is the voice of Truth. On hearing it our potential is shifted from one of goodness alone to goodness willingly submitted to the direction of the Holy Spirit. Our awareness of it is our reception of a deeper communication directly to ourselves from that Truth. It is a calling forth of the gifts we have been given; a calling forth, from beneath the worldly cloaks with which we have clothed ourselves, of the persons we were made to be.
Every one of us is called at some time to respond to the inner promptings and external signs that strive for recognition in our lives. Recognition is our first acknowledgement of having heard the call and of having known it for what it is: a call to respond and follow in ways already built into our individual traits of nature and character, whether through direct action, organization, proclamation, protection, guidance, teaching, mercy; as a minister in the Church, as a religious, or as laity. It is to recognize our gifts, or, if these are not yet discernable, to recognize our giftedness, and to become aware of the direction in which we are being pointed and led. It is to fall more closely into step with what we refer to as our vocation; something we may more clearly see in others than in ourselves.

'Where your talents and the needs of the world cross, there lies your vocation.'
(attributed to Aristotle.)

The needs of the world are many and diverse; those of communities frequently various and mingled, with priorities confused and sometimes unclear; those of individuals commonly all but undecipherable to everyone but themselves. The needs of the world and of large communities are manifest but are not plain for all to see. In this age of rapid and easily accessible communication we learn of desperate situations and disasters around the world almost as soon as they occur. We turn on the television, radio or computer and the news pours into our homes. In general, we are not able to remain unaware of the sufferings of others when these occur suddenly and on a large scale, but the reality of the suffering evades us, however much we may protest that we find it horrific, unbearable, unforgivable, evil, impossible to imagine ... However deeply we believe we feel it, the reality is imperceptible to the majority of mankind.

In our early history we had no knowledge of what occurred in other parts of the world because we were unaware of the existence of those places. As the extent of the world was discovered and revealed we found ourselves able to travel between known places on the Earth’s surface and to bring news and knowledge home with us. We learnt of distant happenings – news of wars, of conquests and of unimagined wonders rather than of the then inconsequential sufferings of distant peoples. What we did learn was recent history rather than current news: facts which may have been entirely swept away by the time we came to know them. Today we know – in the broadest sense – what is happening right now around the world. And closer to home – as close as one can get, where we have no better means of knowing the truth about our neighbours’ lives than did our ancestors in Old Testament times – what of our knowledge and our sympathies here? We live our insulated lives, minding our own business while others mind theirs, and for the most part never really getting to know the people who live within calling distance of us.
And here we are within reach of a call again; this one is the call of person to person: of man to man, of woman to woman. It is also the call of man to woman and woman to man, but there is so much in needs expressed between the genders that can divert us from an otherwise ‘super-natural’ call into a consciously natural empathy and distracting mutual attraction, that this is best, not excluded, but held aside to prevent the understanding being unnecessarily confused by the purely natural possibilities.

It is logical to assume that we are most closely anchored to our human existence in community by our relationships with those who live closest to us, and there are of course many instances where this is the case. But generally this is merely part of the scenery we prepare for the middle acts of whatever play we are presently acting in; it bears little resemblance to act I: scene I, where everyone is equally unknown and apparently alone, before the intrigues, relationships and gossips fill both our eager expectations and our spiritual voids. It is even further from the longed for reality of the final act, where nature and supernature combine in the fulfilment of our scarcely experienced and barely understood dreams. Apart from the few real and meaningful friendships we may have among our neighbours, we remain distant and unknown to each other. Our lives lack the necessary common denominator that will bring us together: the shared faith, complete with all the doubts and fears that we shrink from ever disclosing. And without real, truthful and loving contact with others we are forever withering at the end of the bough, in danger of dying back still further and being cut out and cast aside when the vine is assessed and pruned for the coming harvest.
We are not meant to be entirely alone in our spiritual search, nor during our journey, and we should not seek to remain alone when trying to respond to our call. This applies not only to the individual somewhat distant or reserved member of the laity, whether completely outside a church community or well within, but to the recognized pillars of such communities including, and in some cases especially, the ministers themselves. They, above all of us, have gone beyond the point of no return in their commitment to the responsibility that comes with their gifts and their recognized vocation.

'Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’
(Luke 9:62)

This was Jesus’ response to someone willing to follow Him but who wanted to say goodbye to his family first. A complete surrender to one’s vocation and a committed following of our Lord and submission to the guidance of the Holy Spirit requires a shelving of all previous priorities and commitments; a turning away from all that was previously held dear; not a literal forgetting of one’s family, but a recognition of the new and irreplaceable purpose of one’s life.
However total our commitment we remain human: we are women and men until the moment of our death, and as such we shall be forever distracted and tempted to waver from our course. Anyone working in line with their vocation is no longer sidelined by the schemes and falsehoods of Satan, and will be constantly attacked wherever their walls are weakest. All persons with power and influence within the Church, especially our priests, will be assailed by inflammations of their inbuilt tendencies; pride or greed, or the natural longing for companionship and understanding, love, and joy in the everyday experience of their human life in this beautiful world, the full appreciation of which can only be enjoyed when shared with others.

‘... you begin to consider what personal fulfilment you would secure in a home of your own, and all at once you seem to realise how much easier everything would be if you had the affection of a wife and the presence of children who would compel your steadfast attention. With this prospect in mind, which in the hour of temptation seems obvious, the contract binding you to our Lord looks empty, drab, too much of a burden, and without apparent result.’ (RenĂ© Voillaume. Brothers of Men.)

George Herbert, amid thoughts of breaking free, began his poem, The Collar –

'I Struck the board, and cry’d, “No more.
I will abroad.”

The poem builds with a determination to say what he feels and to cast off the constraints of priesthood and obedience to something holding him back from experiencing all that life has to offer: something which has trapped him and restrained him by a tether once seeming so real but now felt to be mere imagination.
But then, in the final lines of the poem, he hears once more the gentle voice ... and in that moment faith, submission, and recognition of his vocation return to their place in his life.

Lord, May we never lose our ability to hear and respond to your call.

‘But as I rav’d and grew more fierce and wilde
At every word,
Me thoughts I heard one calling, "Childe":
And I reply’d, "My Lord".

About Me

Who I am should be, and should remain, of little consequence to you. Who you are is what matters; who you are meant to be is what should matter most to you. In coming closer to my own true self, I have gradually been filled with the near inexpressible: I have simply become "brim full", and my words to you are drawn from those uttered within myself, as part of an undeniable overflowing that brings a smile to my every dusk, and to my every new dawn.
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