You know how one thought leads to another?
While writing a comment on some one's blog the other day I paused to consider what word I wanted to use in what I wrote. My hands were hovering over the keyboard while my mind debated using the word "evoke." I wasn't certain that this was the best word to express what I wanted to say, and ultimately I took a different track, but "evoke" got me thinking.
There's evoke, provoke and invoke, all of which include the root vocare, from the Latin, "to call," which itself comes from vox: voice. And then of course there is vocation, which many people use to refer to a religious calling. Translating loosely from Webster's dictionary, evoke is to call forth, provoke is to call out (more precisely to stir to action), and invoke is to call on. There are subtleties to these words and definitions, of course, and each of them can be tweaked within a context. And then there is vocation.
Part of the journey into my life as a priest included a fair amount of time dancing with the notion of vocation. To what, precisely, was I being called? And how did I understand that call to manifest itself through my particular being? There are more variations on that theme. The Church takes seriously discerning "calls" of persons into ordained ministry, and these questions, and others like them, linger in the air through periods of discernment, and they cling to the lips of committees. What is less well understood within the body of the Church is that we all have callings. Vocation is not simply about a religious bent in life, it is about life itself. Frederick Beuchner has honed the most frequently quoted definition of the word. Vocation, he writes, is "the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet." One of the things I love about this definition is that it consists of two parts: my deep gladness, and the word's deep hunger. In other words it isn't possible to have a vocation, a la Beuchner, without interacting in some way with and serving the needs of others.
But vocation is more than work or livelihood. It emerges from a deep place within us that connects our inner being with the outer world. While cruising the web for an image to use with this post I came upon the one above, from a web site called Seeds of Unfolding, and an article with the heading, "Our relationship with vocation," by Jorge Waxemberg. Within that site these words are highlighted: “Vocation is not one more choice among an array of possible activities: it is what gives meaning.” Waxemberg further relates the notion that vocation, while it may, and should, be applied to secular views of work, is nonetheless grounded in the world of the spirit. “Our spiritual life and the task of living are one and the same thing.”
On those days when I feel out of sorts with the work I do it generally stems from the reality that some portion of the work doesn't touch or emanate from the place of my deep gladness. It is my perpetual prayer that I might serve God according to Beuchner's definition of vocation, that the joy of my deep gladness will spill out and flow over the deep hunger it is meant to feed. I get hints, here and there, of ways to find that place. Until I do I listen for that still small voice, the peace of my center and the hunger of the world. It isn't just about me. It's about where I fit in the world.