If the first fundamental human question is “who am I,” surely the second question is “what should I do?” In most cases these two questions are inextricably tied together. What happens with one question affects the other one. However, we can only talk about them one at a time, so this reflection piece gives focus to the question, what should I do?
The first thing to realize in this question is the focus goes on the verb. In the other question, “who am I,” the focus was on the subject---on “who.” But in this second question the focus clearly shines on the verb---“do.” The implication is everyone should do something. Not doing something is, in effect, doing something, i.e. doing nothing. This tells me that human beings are essentially designed to be somebody and to do something. The only questions are who am I as a somebody and what should I do, since I have to do something.
Humans were designed from the beginning to do something. In the Genesis story of human creation, the original humans were planted in the garden of Eden---in Paradise. And there in paradise God gave them something to do. They were supposed to till and keep the garden of Eden. It is as if God said, you cannot be truly human and do nothing. Here is the Divine task for you. You have to take care of Paradise! That certainly sounds like an important job! And that is a pretty important Boss!
When things did not go so well for the original humans, they were kicked out of Eden. In the biblical story and made famous in John Steinbeck’s epic title, the humans were condemned to live East of Eden. Things became more difficult. The world was no longer paradise. They had to work the land and endure some pain in childbirth. The things to do became more demanding. And that sounds a great deal like the world in which we live. It is not paradise.
It is not paradise, but it is not necessarily awful. The idea of doing something took on new meaning in later spiritual traditions. In the New Testament tradition, the idea of doing something became connected with how Jesus “called” people to be disciples. In fact, when Jesus came along and said to various people, “follow me” he was calling them into not only a relationship, but an obligation.
The relationship with Jesus Christians call their discipleship. A disciple is one who follows the rabbi---a disciple becomes a student connected to his or her rabbi, or teacher. In some sense this is the identity issue for a Christian---who I am as a Christian. And it has implications for the other fundamental human question: what should I do.
To use traditional language again, what the disciple should do is “ministry.” In Latin ministry means to “serve.” That is the job: to serve---to do. You are to serve neighbor and stranger, friend and enemy. That is a tall order. Basically your doing is to love. To love is to serve.
Later in spiritual history the idea of “doing” was connected with the Latin word, vocatio. Clearly, the English word, vocation, comes from that word. Spiritual people had a vocation---a “calling.” This was not narrowly limited to being a priest or monk. Every spiritual person had a vocation---a calling. It might have to do with your job. It might have to do with some other kind of ministry. You vocation might be as simple as being the best wife or husband you could be. That would be God’s desire for you.
Like the earlier Eden story, something happened to the idea of vocation. It became secularized. It lost its spiritual roots. Vocation came to mean merely a job or a career. God disappeared and lowly human bosses took God’s place. East of Eden became the secular world we all know as our own. The key spiritual question here, however, is still “what should I do?”
That is not a career issue. It is not something to go to career services and get a lead! Instead, one goes back to the basics. One engages the Holy One to get a sense of what to do. The answer in some sense is always going to be some form of ministry---some form of service.
Traditional spiritual language says what you do is God’s will. Some folks don’t like “God’s will” language. Personally I prefer to talk about God’s desire. God has desires for each and every one of us. We need to find a way to know that desire. That might be prayer, meditation, reading---there are many ways to know God’s desire. It might have to do with your job. But more than likely, it has more to do with your place and situation in the world and how you can be part of the kingdom-building which is God’s ultimate goal.
In a real sense our “to do” list is nothing less than the restoration of Paradise. Our ministry is to take us back to Eden. Or probably more likely, our calling is to work toward the Kingdom that is to come. The simplest way to doing this is to be clear who you are spiritually. And then, begin acting and doing what mature spiritual people should do: love, work for justice, be compassionate, etc.