The feast day of St. John of the Cross (1542-1591) is December 14. St. John was a Carmelite friar, mystic, and Doctor of the Church. Today’s prayer is from the Sayings of Light and Love, available in St. John’s Collected Works.
My God, you will not take away what you have given me in your only Son, Jesus Christ. In him, you have given me all that I desire. You will, therefore, no longer delay — and this is my joy — provide that I wait for you. So, my heart, why do you delay? Why do you procrastinate? From this moment on you can love your God! Mine are the heavens, mine is the earth and mine the peoples; mine are the just and mine are the sinners; mine are the angels; mine is the mother of God — God himself is mine, for me — for mine is Christ and everything is for me. What do you ask, what do you seek, my soul? Everything is for you and everything is yours! Do not think of yourself as little not pay attention to the scraps that fall from the table of your Father. Rise on the great day and take your glory in his! Hide yourself in it and be joyful; everything which your heart desires shall be yours.
Let those of us who have much and those who have little gather at the welcoming table of the Lord. At this blessed feast, may rich and poor alike remember that we are called to serve one another and to walk together in God’s gracious world. With thankful hearts, we praise our God who like a loving parent denies us no good thing.
I’m someone who has long struggled with work and vocation. I have a sketchy employment history. I’ve had trouble paying the bills. I frequently wonder just what it is that God is calling me to do with my life.
On the subject of vocation, I’ve often come across the following quote from Frederick Buechner, the writer and theologian: “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It’s a beautiful thought; I can see why it’s quoted so often. But it hasn’t helped me much in my own struggles.
Like a Bible verse, Buechner’s quotation is often lifted out of context. There’s a lot more to it than just that one sentence. The quote comes from the book, Wishful Thinking. In this book, Buechner defines vocation as the work God calls a person to do. Then, in the first edition of the book, he writes:
The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) 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)…
The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.
I still think the last sentence of this passage is lovely. But when I read the paragraph preceding it, my first reaction was, What on earth is wrong with writing deodorant commercials? I actually think this job is worthwhile, and I think this for two reasons. First, because the world needs deodorant. So, yes, let’s write some ads and sell more of it! Second and more importantly–what if your job writing deodorant ads is what enables you to put food on the table? Provide for your family? Pay the bills?
Some of us, maybe even most of us, will not have jobs that in themselves fulfill the world’s deepest hunger. We cannot all be doctors in leper colonies, pastors, missionaries, hospice workers, or counselors. I deeply admire Buechner and have learned much from him (in fact, you’ll probably see me quoting some of his Advent writing pretty soon). However, I have reservations about Buechner’s treatment of vocation because it implies that some jobs are worth more to God than others. If you’re not a doctor or something similar, you’re somehow missing the mark. You’re not fulfilling your vocation. I think this view is wrong. It’s more than a bit elitist.
There was a time in my life when I was a college professor and a time when I was a Kelly Girl. I can tell you which job my peers most admired me for. But during my stint as a temp worker, I was pretty happy to be bringing in some much-needed income. I think I was fulfilling my vocation by working hard and helping my family, even if this work didn’t meet Buechner’s definition.
And what about the other part of Buechner’s famous quotation? The “deep gladness” part? Well, I wish that we could all find jobs that stem from a deep well of joy. But let’s face it, sometimes work is a 9 to 5 kind of thing. Sometimes it is just what pays the bills. And there is no shame in that. We should do the work we can in a way that glorifies God.
We do this because a job is not the same thing as a vocation. Originally, a vocation meant a divine call to the religious life. Its common usage gradually broadened to mean the particular gifts or interests God has given us or the call to a certain kind of life. But above all, a person’s vocation is her call to follow Jesus Christ in and through whatever work or tasks she does.
Let’s say that God has given you the gift of hospitality. Making others feel welcome, heard, cared for, and important is what gives you deep gladness. You could live out this calling in any number of jobs. An auto mechanic can show hospitality. So can a nurse. And a college professor. And a Kelly Girl. You can live out the joy of hospitality when you meet people on the street, when there’s a new face in your book group, or when you invite people to your home after church on Sunday. Our true vocations are never a 9 to 5 thing. They are a part of us, our spiritual core, and we can practice them wherever we are and whatever we do.
In the revised version of Wishful Thinking, the section on vocation was changed. The example of a “missed vocation” is not deodorant ad writer but cigarette ad writer (119). I suppose this makes a little more sense. Given what we know about cigarettes, we could conclude that promoting a harmful product would not be an ideal job OR vocation.
But I still don’t see what is wrong with writing commercials in general. Go and work. Pay your bills. Support yourself and your family. Pray. Love. Serve. Glorify God in all the tasks of daily life. This is your true vocation.
Botany. the normal separation of flowers, fruit, and leaves from plants.
From a place deep within itself, the autumn tree bursts forth in glorious color, and shows a different face of its beauty. Colors emerge like hidden jewels, sparkling in the sun. The season is turning, and once again I contemplate the language of the Tree Maker speaking through the deciduous tree.
For months they are magnificent lush and green, but as temperatures cool, leaves transform, change colors, and strike us with emanating, glowing hues. We have to catch the show at the right time. The window is short. A week too late, and the leaves could be gone, fallen to the ground in a dusty heap.
Why do leaves change color in a glorious display for only a short time, only to fall to the ground, dead?
Why do trees lose their magnificent crown, drop their jewels, shed their shimmering coats, just before the onslaught of bitter, brutal cold, winter winds, and ice and snow? Why at that moment of time?
The Tree Maker
Surrender. Did you notice that glory shines brightest before Tree dies during autumn? It shines then gives up a part of its treasure – its leaves– and only a spindly skeleton remains for the long winter season. The autumn leaves that glow, and then die, exemplify the beauty of letting go. Its branches are always lifted upward like arms in praise. With a dark, cold season approaching, my Tree surrenders bravely as it is stripped of its glorious coat of color and stands bare naked in the coldest months of the year.
Finding Rest. In the whirlwind of life the tree is firmly planted. It may sway in the wind, but it won’t come out of the ground. Its roots are firmly established. The peace, the place of rest, amidst seasons, the bitter winter, and the whirlwind of life, is found in Me: “Return to your rest, O my soul, For the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Psalm 116:7. The leaves return to their place of rest.
Deeper Roots. Abiding with Me makes for deeper roots. Surviving the winter is part of the process. Surviving in the environment where they are planted is also part of the process. During one season they bear fruit, in another season, the seeds fall and lie dormant in the ground, but the seeds do not die in the winter. I am cultivating life, even in darkness, even in the long winters of your life.
Finding Rest. The trees of autumn appear to me like aging trees, and through their changing colors, they show off their wisdom and knowledge, as if these are crowning acts of their lives. But then their glory dies all too soon, and their colors fade and their leaves drop dead to the ground. Then the snow falls upon the bare tree.
As in: trees laughing leaves, floating in the wind.
I catch a handful of laughter, toss it back in the air.
As in: the hidden beauty in growing old, in death, revealed and witnessed through vibrant colors of burnt orange, flaming scarlet, deep gold.
I see the lines of mirth and hues of grace in an aging autumn. I, too, am another year older, passing through another autumn, an unknown number of autumns remaining.
As in: the beauty of letting go, surrender, the tree succumbing to the cold of winter without its luscious wrap of leaves.
The tree, another year older, yields to the process of time and change. I, too, have seasons of hard times, removal, loss, and renewal.
As in: watching youthful green disappear as quickly as it came.
I soon will see the tree, standing in the middle of winter like a stark, bare skeleton with spindly limbs. Only its leaves will have died; the tree remains alive and breathing, waiting for its time to bloom again.
Hidden jewels exist behind the coat; “great and unsearchable things”, words of life and wisdom and the peace of His presence, that the Coat-Remover Himself reveals after the false wrappings of this life are taken away.
growing old; aging.
Cell Biology. (of a cell) no longer capable of dividing but still alive and metabolically active.
*definitions from dictionary.com
Prasanta Verma is a member of The Contemplative Writer team. She’s a writer, poet, and artist. Born under an Asian sun, raised in the Appalachian foothills, Prasanta currently lives in the Midwest, is a mom of three, and also coaches high school debate. You can find her on Twitter @ pathoftreasure, Instagram prasanta_v_writer, and at her website: https://pathoftreasure.wordpress.com/.
A Prayer Meditation for All Saints Day by Safiyah Fosua:
We give you thanks, O God, for all the saints who ever worshiped you
Whether in brush arbors or cathedrals,
Weathered wooden churches or crumbling cement meeting houses
Where your name was lifted and adored.
We give you thanks, O God, for hands lifted in praise:
Manicured hands and hands stained with grease or soil,
Strong hands and those gnarled with age
Used as wave offerings across the land.
We thank you, God, for hardworking saints;
Whether hard-hatted or steel-booted,
Head ragged or aproned,
Blue-collared or three-piece-suited
They left their mark on the earth for you, for us, for our children to come.
Thank you, God, for the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have gone before us.
Bless the memories of your saints, God.
May we learn how to walk wisely from their examples of faith, dedication, worship, and love.
Thank you for joining us for Friday Favorites! Each week, Prasanta Verma and I round up our favorite links related to prayer, spirituality, and writing. We hope it will enrich your life and help you to find the best the web has to offer.
Today’s prayer is adapted from a passage in Walter Hilton’s spiritual treatise, TheScale of Perfection. Hilton (ca. 1340 – 1396) was an English Augustinian canon and mystic. Hilton is not a saint, but the Episcopal Church (USA) honors him this week, on September 28.
Lord, thou art in me and shalt never be lost out of me,
but I am not near thee till I have found thee.
Nowhere need I run to seek thee,
but within me where already thou art.
Thou art the treasure hidden within me:
draw me therefore to thee that I may find thee
and serve and possess thee forever.
When I read Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead several years ago, I was struck by something the character of John Ames proclaimss towards the end of the story: “Augustine says the Lord loves each of us as an only child, and that has to be true.”(2004, pp. 245-46)
It certainly rang true to me. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the idea that God loves the whole world. Doesn’t he play favorites like the rest of us do? When I read that line in Gilead, I immediately took to the idea of being God’s only child. One of a kind. Special. Uniquely loved.
Historian that I am, I went to look up this quote in Augustine’s works. I was pretty sure it came from the Confessions. But try as I might, I couldn’t find it. As I searched, I came across the same loosely quoted phrase, with no citation, in a nonfiction book. And I’ve seen it other places on the web.
Finally, after consulting a friend who specializes in the early Christian tradition, I discovered what Augustine really said:
You are good and all-powerful, caring for each one of us as though the only one in your care.*
Here’s the context. Before his conversion to Christianity, Augustine’s mother, Monica, wept for his soul. God comforted Monica in a vision. Augustine writes:
How could this vision come to her unless ‘your ears were close to her heart?’ You are good and all-powerful, caring for each one of us as though the only one in your care, and yet for all as for each individual.
In this statement, Augustine paints a vivid picture of God’s overwhelming love. God rests his ear on Monica’s chest and listens to her heartbeat, her tears, her pain. In Monica’s moment of need, everything and everyone else fades from God’s view, and Monica becomes his only care and concern.
But Augustine did NOT say, “God loves each of us as an only child.” He does not explicitly cast God as a parent. Augustine might have been thinking about God as a father, but maybe not. Perhaps he was thinking of God as a pastor, a doctor, a mentor, or a teacher — someone who has another in his or her care.
I have to admit that I was disappointed. How I long to be told that I’m God’s only child! I yearn for the undivided attention of a beloved parent; to climb up on God’s knee and know that I am his only one. He’s not going to get distracted by the other children out there. He’s not going to run out of time or energy for me.
I’m not above acting like a child desperate for attention, either. “Look at me!” I cry out to God. “I bet those other kids can’t do a one-handed cartwheel!” Do you do that, too? (I mean the showing off, not the cartwheel.)
We look to the greats of the Church to tell us about our deepest longings. Augustine didn’t tell me what I wanted to hear, but he did teach me something about myself. My search for Augustine’s quotation, and my subsequent disappointment, reveals the state of my heart: a heart that longs to be someone’s one and only.
I know I’m not alone in feeling this way, since this passage from the Confessions has been misquoted (perhaps a better word is paraphrased) more than once, even by the likes of Marilynne Robinson! I think it points to one of the tensions of the Christian faith — we have a God who stretches his arms around the whole world yet loves each of us as the one perfect and beloved child he’s always longed for. It’s a tension I’ll wrestle with for a long time, since I’ll always be a child at heart.
*Augustine, Confessions, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009), 3.11.19, p. 50.
This post was originally published on my website, lisadeam.com.