I have heard the language of “call” since I was fairly young. It was not unusual to hear people in my religious tradition talk about people being “called into ministry.” Although I knew sometimes God was the One who did the calling, I also suspected that God always was the One behind that call. And if I am to be honest, I really hoped that God would never do that to me!
At the time I did not know anything about the Quaker tradition. I did not know that Quakers think God calls everyone! The question is not whether one is called; the question is to what is God calling us to do. I realized I had a great deal to learn about this “calling business!”
Often it would be funny, if it were not pathetic. I did not want any call on my life because I had bigger and better plans. Talk about delusional! Without ever saying it, I am sure I felt like I was better at planning my life’s outcomes than God. I did not realize how shortsighted I was! Thank goodness for some education and maturity. So many folks assume they know everything about life planning. No wonder so many of us make a mess of it!
Last night I had the privilege of going to the Catholic seminary in my city. The occasion was a public lecture to which I get an annual invitation. I enjoy participating in this event. The speakers are usually top-notch. I met the speaker last night. He is a very well-known American Church Historian. He is a Jesuit and a priest. I have much respect for who he is and what he has accomplished.
I looked around the sizeable crowd to see where the speaker was so I could meet him. I spent some minutes chatting with him. It turns out his primary mentor at Harvard was one of the faculty people I know very well. He also was a preeminent American Church Historian. Ironically, he was a Quaker---a very well respected Quaker.
As much as I enjoyed meeting the speaker and hearing his lecture, that was not the highlight of the evening for me. The highlight was dinner! It was not because the food was so special. The highlight was the people with me at the table. Purposely, I chose to sit down at a table of seven seminarians. I did not really want to be with the seminary faculty, nor the large group of priests who were in for the lecture. I wanted to be with the guys who had chosen to come to seminary to study for the priesthood.
I think they were a little surprised when I asked if I could sit with them. But they were nice! They expected chitchat, no doubt. But I had more in mind. I turned to a couple of them and said, “So how did you know you were being called to come to seminary and begin studies for the priesthood?” That also got the attention of the other five guys!
Such began the very interesting conversation of how God works in the lives of people. They each had graduated recently from college. They had a variety of majors in college. I am sure they had done much soul-searching. I was intrigued how they understand God to be working in their heart and soul to nudge them to consider a career path they probably did not think about when they were kids.
But even with that thought, I was brought up short. I am not sure the priesthood can appropriately be called a career path. It is not like the career in banking or the like. The priesthood is a calling. As they reflected and shared their stories with me, I began to hear some common themes.
Each of them had an awareness that their lives would be lacking or unsatisfying if they did not yield to the gnawing sense that they were being called to something special. No one had such an absolute experience of God’s call, that there could never be any doubt. That resonated with how God works in my own life. I loved hearing their stories. I felt like I had stood on sacred ground as they recounted the Divinity working in humanity.
As dinner concluded and we all headed to the lecture, I gave thanks for each one of their lives. I told them to make good use of the next three or four years because they could very well be active in ministry until 2050 or even beyond! How does one prepare today for life in 2050?
I left them, but I did not leave the issue. I settled back into my own Quaker tradition that says each one of us has a calling. If we will but listen and pay attention, I am confident that the Holy One will “speak” to each of us. I am confident there will be a calling on our lives. It probably will have little or nothing to do with our career. We can stay in banking or teaching or, even, in retirement.
Some callings may have more to do with being than doing. The calling might be as simple as being present to someone. Like Jesus, we may be called into odd situations and with unusual people. I know I want to stay open to God’s call. And I want to be able to “answer” that call when I know it. If I can live into that call, then I am sure I will come to know the peace that passes all understanding.