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“There are Callings in a Time as In A Life”

Written by MJ Ryan, SheEO Development Guide

Since I was very young, I have been obsessed with the cultivation of wisdom—what does it mean to be wise, how can we grow in wisdom, what are its qualities. It seems like one of the most radically generous acts we can do is to grow as wise as we possibly can to be of maximum service.

So, it’s no surprise that I am a follower of Krista Tippett, author of the book Becoming Wise and the podcast On Being.  On Being has a newsletter called, “The Pause” that arrives in my inbox weekly. The January 23, 2021 edition really caught my attention. It seems to be speaking not only to me, but to all of us. For, as many teachers have said in one way, shape or form recently in the face of the enormous challenges in front of us, this is the time and we are the people. She writes:

“I’ve been thinking this week about vocation — from the Latin vocare, callings. Somewhere along the way in this culture a person’s vocation became synonymous with their job title, but I think of vocation as the full range of our callings as human beings. Yes, as professional people but also as family members and neighbors, parents and friends, and members of a body politic. Vocation is not so much about goals and accomplishments. It’s about how we orient our lives and our attention and our passions. At different stages in life, different callings emerge and take primacy — what we focus on and pay homage to with our presence, and what we fight for from the ground of what we love. 

“To pick up the question of what is calling me and you is one way to begin to walk, each with our own offering, towards a new kind of wholeness in our life together. For there are callings in a time as in a life.

“Some of us — many of us — are called right now primarily to get safe and fed and warm, to keep those we love safe and fed and warm. Some of us are called to place our bodies between other bodies and danger. Some of us are called to be bridge people, staking out the vast ground at the heart of our life together where there is meaningful difference but no desire for animosity.

“And some of us are called to be calmers of fear. This calling is so tender, and so urgent, if what we truly want is to coax our own best selves, and the best selves of others, into the light. Fear is the primitive, powerful place our brains go when they perceive threat. It collapses imagination, closing down a sense of the possible. It looks for an ‘other’ to blame, and it finds one. The anger that has consumed our life together on every side is fueled by pain and fear. 

“This is an uncomfortable truth to take in, a fact not about life as we wish it to be but about life as it is. One of the most painful things for me to watch in the frenzy of our life together in recent years was the loss of any capacity to remember that essential contradictions run wild in each of us and are real, too, in whoever our ‘others’ have become. There is a terrible but also a beautiful, and potentially redemptive, complexity at play whenever human beings are involved.

“I wonder if now, more of us who are safe enough might feel ourselves called — to invoke Bryan Stevenson — to walk towards the reality that those who confuse and vex us are more than the worst thing we believe they are or have done. We might be called — to invoke an image Frances Kissling once gave me that has shaped my sense of calling ever since — to populate and build up ‘that crack in the middle where people on both sides absolutely refuse to see each other as evil.’ We spend so much time and energy in this culture, so much fierce creativity, wishing to change other people’s minds. But in life as it is lived, we know that’s not how it works. Hearts soften, and then minds open. Pragmatic possibilities appear that our bodies and brains literally could not fathom before.” 

Krista reminds me of the generosity of holding complexity and paradox, which goes to the heart of what wisdom is.  Where are you called to right now? Only you can know. But I hope that Krista’s words, as well as this quote by St. Teresa of Avila, will inspire you into your piece of the call:

“May today there be peace within. May you trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be. May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith in yourself and others. May you use the gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.”

St. Teresa of Avila
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