In the Ireland of my youth the word “vocation” was quite frequently heard, something which is not so common today. It could refer to jobs which required self-sacrifice and dedication, such as nursing or relief work abroad. However, it most frequently meant that you felt called to serve God in ministry in the Church. As such it had a special, mysterious quality, almost as if taking you by surprise, from without. While the understanding of life in the context of a deeper purpose and meaning is quite beneficial psychologically, there was a danger of seeing vocation as something reserved for special people. In this quote, Parker Palmer, reminds us that becoming fully who we are, wherever we are at this moment, and not running away from it through regret or living in our thoughts, is the real way of finding purpose in life. It is not by looking elsewhere, but by accepting and inhabiting who and where we are.
What a long time it can take to become the person one has always been. How often in the process we mask ourselves in faces that are not our own. How much dissolving and shaking of ego we must endure before we discover our deep identity — the true self within every human being that is the seed of authentic vocation.
I first learned about vocation growing up in the church. But the idea of vocation I picked up in those circles created distortion until I grew strong enough to discard it. I mean the idea that vocation, or calling, comes from a voice external to ourselves, a voice of moral demand that asks us to become someone we are not yet — someone different, someone better, someone just beyond our reach.
Today I understand vocation quite differently — not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Discovering vocation does not mean scrambling toward some prize just beyond my reach but accepting the treasure of true self I already possess. Vocation does not come from a voice ‘out there’ calling me to become something I am not. It comes from a voice ‘in here’ calling me to be the person I was born to be, to fulfill the original selfhood given me at birth by God.
photo Old man, Ballyknow Quay, Galway, Ireland, by Greg O’Beirne