This is an entry in the “Acrostic Contemplations.”
Vocation is, etymologically speaking, one’s calling. The term comes from the Latin vocatio, a “call” or “summons,” and has been used in Christianity for centuries to describe one discerning their call from God towards a particular way of life, in religious orders, the priesthood, or simply, in more recent years, into a particular career. Today, your vocation is the work you do, your job for which you receive a salary or wage, rather than what you want to do.
“Avocation” is a related term that refers to what you choose to pursue other than work. It has the same Latin root but with prefixed negative “a” meaning “to call away from one’s work” or “to distract.” My favorite example of how these terms are used is the following. Clark Kent’s vocation is journalism, but his avocation is changing into a skintight red and blue jumpsuit and fighting crime. While the etymology might imply distraction or being called away from our “real work,” for many it is our avocation that we feel is most important. Certainly that is true for Clark Kent/Superman. I believe it is also true for the countless people who volunteer in shelters, foster and adopt children, teach in prisons, and serve in churches. How do we reclaim vocatio as our calling rather than simply the work that we do to earn a living?
The old expression, no doubt recited at innumerable graduation ceremonies over the last few weeks, is to “do what you love and love what you do and you will never work a day in your life.” If we are following our calling, while it may be hard and at times it will likely be uncomfortable, then I think that we will find that we love. Of course the tricky bit is that most of us need to “make a living,” as they say, which really just means “have money to pay for basic needs like shelter, food, clothing, and medicine.” Not all callings pay or pay well. Certainly when Jesus called the disciples to follow him there was no discussion of salary, benefits, 401k, or healthcare. Quite the opposite. “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.”
Finding this balance of listening to my call and earning my keep is what led me to the academic study of the Bible. As an undergraduate, once I realized I was not going to be a real doctor (a physician, that is), I wrestled with the question of whether or not I was called to full-time ministry. I concluded I was not and, in spite of my being ordained as a priest for nearly 15 years now, I still feel that is the case. But I also knew I wanted my “work” to involve studying Scripture, I wanted what I had to do also to be what I wanted to do. As it happens, that research led me into the study of how the ancient Rabbis interpreted the Bible, something I did not foresee, and that led to an academic administrative career, also not glimpsed in the crystal ball of my youth. This, so far as I can discern and has been affirmed by others, is where my gifts and abilities are the most useful to others. It is also where I find great joy and satisfaction. The way I lead as an administrator is (I hope and pray!) then informed by that study and experience, as I seek to serve, help others discern their calling, and offer grace in times of grief and turmoil. I feel I have indeed been called to this path, for this time.
Christians all share one calling: to follow Christ. We should follow fully, giving all of ourselves to the service of God, but all of me is not the same as all of you. So listen for the call. It may be faint, it likely will not be a vision of a flaming sword or a pillar of cloud, but more likely through the counsel and affirmation of those who know you best.
You are being called; listen, hear, and respond.
1Cor. 12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.
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