For one of my courses this semester, I have been reading a lot of Paul Ricoeur, a French philosopher. I am the first to admit that reading Ricoeur is not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, the long, arduous road through his philosophical meanderings proved to be totally worth it when I got to the last two articles. One of them was called, "The Summoned Subject in the School of the Narratives of the Prophetic Vocation." One of the sections in this article explores the topic of vocation. I pulled out some of his points and fleshed out the ideas for a short talk last Sunday. Though Ricoeur is using Old Testament prophets as an example, I believe these principles apply to us all.
Before I get into Ricoeur's points, let me offer a brief explanation of the term, "vocation." This word carries a sense of "spiritual calling," and has its root in the same word as "voice." Much more than a career path one chooses, a vocation is a call that one responds to. So when you ask someone about their vocation, you are not asking where they spend their working hours, you are asking what God has called them to do. And this may or may not directly correspond to one's career or job. For example, one may work in a bank, but be called to intercede or pray on behalf of others. A vocation is meant to permeate all of one's life, not just take up a few hours a week. Here, then, are 7 different phases of a spiritual calling based on Ricoeur's article.
1. First, there is a confrontation with God. For Moses, there was a burning bush which interrupted his herding duties. What is noteworthy about the first phase in a spiritual calling is that God literally steps into our path and confronts us. Take a look at the life of Saul/Paul and we note a very disturbing interruption in his life, one that blinded him and challenged him to change direction. Interruptions are not always welcome. Perhaps Moses was tempted to get out the fire extinguisher, put out the burning bush, and get on with life. Fortunately for the Israelite slaves, he did not.
2. The introductory speech. This is where God introduces himself to the person he has interrupted. In the case of Moses, God names himself, identifies himself, and makes reference to his faithfulness to past generations. This introduction becomes the authority and foundation for the calling.
3. The decisive word is pronounced. Here, God communicates three things to Moses. 1) This is who you are. 2) This is what I am asking you to do. 3) Go.
4. The objection. Ah, yes. The one being called is quick to object that this is just not possible. For Moses, the objection was that he was slow of speech and would not be able to speak to the leader of a nation. For Jeremiah, it was the fact that he was only a boy. We all have our objections to the call of God. Invariably, the mission is perceived as being too grand and the one being called perceives that they are too small. Nevertheless, the call has been given.
5. The reassurance. God responds to the objections with the following reassurance: I am with you. The reference goes back to capability of the one doing the calling instead of focusing on the incapabilities of the one being called.
6. But what if? Here, the one being called is willing to entertain the idea of taking the first step, shaky as it might be, and wants to know how things will unfold. Moses said to God, "Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, 'The God of your fathers has sent me to you,' and they ask me, 'What is his name?' Then what shall I tell them?" (Exodus 3)
The called one asks: if I take the first step and run into a roadblock, then what?
7. Go back to number 2. In the example of Moses, God refers back to his introduction of himself as the faithful one, but expands on it, making sure that Moses understands that the mysterious name of God is nevertheless an all-encompassing name: evident in history, active in the present, and reverberating into the future. God is always being faithful. He is always capable. He is always with the one he has called. The success of the mission rests on the faithfulness of I AM WHO I AM. Basically, God is saying: you can count on me because it's me.
Though none of us find ourselves in the same situation as Moses, called to free an entire nation, there is no doubt in my mind and heart that we are all being called to bring freedom to those around us. How God is asking you to do this, only you will know. But the first step to finding out might be to ask ourselves, where is my life being interrupted? Could this perhaps be a clue as to what my vocation is?
the photo: my ear