Joining Self and Service

Who are you? Master Linji says that who you are is the awakened one. It’s just that sometimes we forget that. This very day, what could possibly be lacking? “Anyone who has this insight will be a person who has nothing to do,” says Linji. He's saying, it isn’t about your doing, it’s about your being. He’s not saying to cease all activity. But let your activity flow from who you are rather than from what you want to be different.

Vocation comes from the word voice, that is, the voice of calling that calls us to offer who we are, not in order to achieve this or that, but simply in order to express who we are in the world. We don’t choose who we are, we discover it. Then we can choose to nurture it or choose to fight it.

Repression is not a good idea. On the other hand, nurturing isn’t simple indulgence either. There’s a discipline involved.

Frederick Buechner, in a slim book called Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC (1973) gets to the letter "V," and writes about "vocation," God’s calling. We might think of it as the call of our true selves, as opposed to the calls of the various other competing voices we carry around in our heads. Buechner writes:
"Vocation. It comes from the Latin vocare, to call, and means the work a person is called to by God. There are all different kinds of voices calling you to all different kinds of work, and the problem is to find out which is the voice of God rather than of Society, say, or the Superego, or Self-Interest. By and large a good rule for finding out is this. The kind of work God usually calls you to is the kind of work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world most needs to have done.

If you really get a kick out of your work, you’ve presumably met requirement (a), but if your work is writing TV deodorant commercials, the chances are you’ve missed requirement (b). On the other hand, if your work is being a doctor in a leper colony, you have probably met requirement (b), but if most of the time you’re bored and depressed by it, the chances are you have not only bypassed (a) but probably aren’t helping your patients much either.

Neither the hair shirt not the soft berth will do. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”
Vocation is beyond what we do for a paycheck. It’s the real work of bringing who we are – the fonts of our own deep gladness – to engage our world – to meet the world’s deep hunger. Your being is a unique gift to the world – which is to say, you bring unique gifts. Finding out who you are may take some exploration of what your gifts are – your skills, talents, abilities. Adds Parker Palmer:
“Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be."
As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks – we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner indicates when he says vocation is that “place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”

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This is part 4 of 5 of "Vocation: Who Are You?"
Next: Part 5: "Lessons of the Wolfpack"
Previous: Part 3: "Blessed Be. Who Are You?"
Beginning: Part 1: "Proverbial Vision"

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