Life raises the question for many: can work be a holy task? For work to become a holy task in the sense that St Benedict intends we require purpose in our work. Purpose begs a further question: do we feel called in our lives? In Friend of the Soul: A Benedictine Spirituality of Work Norvene Vest notes that work has the potential to become a holy task when each of us takes to heart a desire to respond to God and a willingness to see life as the place where that response is formed and acted upon. Is it possible we can experience ourselves not as being limited by lack of control but as able to interact with things beyond our control in a manner that enhances our deeper sense of being called into relationship with purpose and value in our lives?
One of the themes for me this Lent is the notion of wilderness (see my earlier blog on) as a place where we come to terms with the space in which our lives are actually lived. I call this space a wilderness not in the sense that it is empty or barren, although at times it certainly can feel like this, but because it is boundaried by an experience of limitation beyond which we have little if any control over things. So much of the fantasy in life is to equate purpose, meaning, safety, fulfillment in life with having control over life. I am suggesting that its not being in control so much as being able to interact with things that are essentially beyond our control that matters to us. We do this from the space of wilderness where like in the Sonoran Desert that surrounds our life here in Phoenix, life flourishes in astonishing abundance and variety through skillful adaptation to environmental limitation. Its within this space, this wilderness where we experience our vocation- our call to purpose and meaning.
So much of my own drive in life has been to achieve mastery over tasks and events. No matter how successful I become at this I am always afraid that the next turn of events will finally be the other shoe that drops and life will disintegrate around me. The problem here is that my life is all about me. I fill the whole frame that boundaries the picture of my life. There is no room for a necessary sense of being called, because I am the one always doing the calling. In short there is no room for a sense of being called by that greater than myself. Benedict understood that it is God who does the calling. God’s call is not only to the special, those singled out for purpose, but to all human beings. We experience that call in the context of the space where our lives are actually lived. Because this is the space where God is already waiting for us with an invitation to live life. That invitation awaits only our acceptance of being called. Vest quotes Frederick Beuchner’s description of vocation as where our deep gladness and the world’s hunger meet. I would reframe that to vocation is also the place where our deep gladness and our own hunger meet. We need to experience the dynamic tension between gladness and hunger, gratitude and frustration. In this tension like the life of the desert we adapt skillfully to life’s joys and demands. Principally those demands come to us as the need to learn how to more skillfully interact with those things that are beyond our control.