Canadian Mennonite
Volume 9, No. 07
April 4, 2005


Examining our vocation

Do you ever wonder whether God called you to your occupation? Parker Palmer, in his early 30s began, literally, to wake up to questions about what he was doing. Things seemed to be going well, “but the soul does not put much stock in appearances. I had started to understand it is indeed possible to live a life other than one’s own. Fearful I was doing just that, I would snap awake in the middle of the night and stare for long hours at the ceiling” (Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak, page 2).

He reflected upon the Quaker saying, “Let your life speak,” and felt called to a higher purpose. Lining up the most elevated ideals, he tried living up to them. “The results were rarely admirable, often laughable, and sometimes grotesque…always they were unreal, a distortion of my true self—as must be the case when one lives from the outside in, and not the inside out” (page 3).

With a good education, Palmer held a great job (advocating social justice in Washington, D.C.). He left that job and began to examine his vocation (calling) at a Quaker study centre.

Twice in his 40s he suffered bouts of paralyzing depression, even while leading a spiritual community. He began to understand he had lived an ungrounded life at an unsafe altitude. Depression pulled him down to the ground where he discovered that the way to God is not up, but down. Deep inside he felt the urge from his soul to become one whole life—beliefs, deeds, and being.

Moses told Israel that “life” is a deliberate and serious choice: “This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses.… I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life…listen to his voice…. For the LORD is your life”(Deuteronomy 30:19-20—NIV).

Palmer gradually discovered and chose the “creation of God” inside his being. He began to move out in confident vocation to serve the world. Today he’s a much-sought-after speaker and writer.

How can you and I examine our occupation and vocation?

In our churches we have tried to balance orthodoxies (sound doctrines) and orthopraxies (sound practices). Often we argue about which is more important.

Both are inadequate by themselves. Orthodoxies tend to put on blinkers and sneer at deeds that do not mouth our doctrines. Orthopraxies don’t always have deep connections to the total imperatives of God in Jesus—such as justice for all in all.

In a 2003 lecture at Canadian Mennonite University, John Paul Lederach, a Mennonite mediator, said orthovoxis can help us in our examination. Voxis means “voice,” the root word for “vocation.” Voice helps us to articulate words, but it goes much deeper. Voice is where blood and breath mix. It gets to the essence of our being. The dynamic connection of breath and “voice” is seen in Genesis: God breathed life (Genesis 2:7)! Christian vocation is our God-gifted “voice.” This can become our unique gift to the world. Our life begins to “speak” as God created us to speak.

Mennonites have often used theology to become private enclaves, instead of giving our unique gifts to the world. The world is starving for our Anabaptist gifts, such as nonviolent peacemaking in church and family. Gifts of spiritual calling make a difference when openly placed on the altar of commitment. Jesus urges us to bring our gifts. If we are not rightfully offering them to the community, we must stop enroute to make things right; then offer the gifts (Matthew 5:23). Such an examined life (vocation) “speaks” to the whole world.

—Bernie Wiebe

The author is a former editor of The Mennonite and is the current chair of Canadian Mennonite’s board.

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