When some people see this title, they probably assume I am going to talk about some special call to the ministry. For sure, this is often the language of priests and others who do feel a special call into some form of ministry. I don’t minimize that, but I have a different kind of call in mind. I have in mind something as simple as a phone call.
Although people may not talk on the phone as much as a few years ago, there is still a great deal of conversation that goes over the phone waves. Email and texting have not totally replaced actually hearing a human voice on the other end of the phone call. As I pondered the matter, I quickly realized not all phone calls are equal. And I have created a little way to distinguish between two different kinds of phone calls.
In order to distinguish two different kinds, I appeal to the grammatical part of speech called an article. I had a good English teacher who actually enabled me to appreciate language. One thing she taught me was the form of speech called an article. The two most common articles are “a” and “the.” Obviously we all use the two little words on a daily basis. For example, I often hear students talking about “a test” they are facing. This kind of language is not specific. When I hear that, I don’t know in which class their test will be given. That is why it is called an indefinite article.
On the other hand, “the” is a definite article. It specifies a particular thing or person. We hear it in a phrase like, “oh, that is the person!” This sometimes points to something or someone special. Again, I hear a couple refer to their upcoming wedding. “We can hardly wait for the day.” Here we almost want to italicize or put “the” in bold letters.
This pushes me to think about the variety of phone calls I have received and others have received. I have answered countless phone calls that were not that special. That does not mean I did not care. But they were not special. Alternatively, I have received phone calls that fit in the category of “the call.” And thinking about it now, almost all of those calls could somehow be described as spiritual---defined broadly. Let’s look at a couple examples.
Often to receive “the call” relates to expectation. I think of the time my older daughter was pregnant with our first grandchild. Since she lived hundreds of miles from me, we decided we could only travel there when the little one was born. So we were expecting “the call” any day. Finally it came. That call was expected, special and significant. Very few of my phone calls fit all three of those categories. And for me, that makes it spiritual---to be expected, special and significant.
Another example that comes to mind goes to the other end of life. Just as people are born, so do people die. Because I am older, I have experienced quite a few calls that have announced someone’s death. Even when people are in a hospice program and everyone knows death is imminent, no one knows the precise moment that last breath will take place. In those cases we know we will receive a call telling us death has happened. We may be going about our normal routine, but all the while we know we are going to get “the call” that announces the death. Calls like this are quite definitive.
And of course, some people do not go the hospice route to die. Some folks go almost instantaneously with a heart attack or something more drastic and dramatic. These calls usually are not expected. Often they induce some shock and, perhaps, even disbelief. As such, they can be really difficult. That is why we so often utter words like, “I can’t believe it.”
Thinking about this idea leads me back to some basic sense of what spiritual and spirituality is for me. I’ll spare you some fancy academic definition. Let me simply say that spirituality for me has to do with real life. It has to do with values and the value of life. Spirituality always deals with the authentic life and never the inauthentic or pretentious life.
I figured out a long time ago that spirituality was my way of engaging my own life and finding my own way of making sense and meaning out of life. My spirituality happens to be religiously oriented. By learning to live in this particular way, I hope I have prepared myself in the best sense of the word for whenever “the call” comes to me. “The call” might be the best news I could have expected---or maybe even news I would never have guessed. If so, I want to be able to embrace it and celebrate to the fullest. And if it is lousy or devastating news, I want to be able to hear it, begin to absorb it and not let it kill me---literally or metaphorically.
Prepare spiritually. When the phone rings, you never know…