Vocation: How Do We Listen for a Joyful Calling at Any Age?
“when we are honest and vivid and particularin describing what is mostpersonal and important in life, we can summon universal and redemptive places at thevery edge of words. In Collegeville we didso in the act of engaging religious difference.”–Krista Tippett, Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters — And How to Talk About It
My time here at Collegeville is drawing to a close. I’m a little sad about that.
Saying good-bye to strangers who became beloved friends
is like a feeling a skin of ice forming over a body of deep blue water.
The lovely thing about ice and hearts is that the water remains as the ice comes and goes.
Even in our brief time together, we resident scholars connected under the surface,
to the deepest wells of our being.
We did so through worship, study, conversation, and much shared food and drink.
We made friends across a spectrum of Christian traditions.
And also the spectrum of age.
Take my young friend Jess, above, for example.
A Catholic educated in the Jesuit tradition, both at Santa Clara University and Boston College, Jess has been my teacher in two approaches to vocation among the laity in the Catholic tradition.
The Benedictine approach, we are learning here at Collegeville together.
The Jesuit approach, centered in Ignatian spirituality, is what drew her into the vocation of studying and teaching theology.
She was part of a vocational discernment project called the Discover Program at Santa Clara University as an undergraduate.
She remembered seeing this delightful video and answering the three questions in it while engaged in a
community of students and faculty who were discerning vocation together.
The video takes 30 minutes, but well worth the time if you have it.
If you don’t, here’s a transcript to skim.
And here are the three important questions about vocation that transcend age:
1) Is this a source of joy?
2) Is this something that taps into your talents and gifts and uses them in the fullest way possible?
3) Is this role a genuine service to the people around you, to society at large?
Notice that the first question is one of joy.
I felt an immediate kinship between the vocational search Jess has been on and my own lifelong search culminating in Jubilación.
As Jess and I discussed our respective vocational journeys, we did indeed summon what Krista Tippett has called
the universal and redemptive places at thevery edge of words.
This is a tender topic for me. I have a whole string of interests-jobs-careers-positions that I have studied and entered into thinking they were my work, and, for one reason or another, they have faded into the background.
The wish that I could have ‘one career’ in my life comes up when jealousy creeps in, and I wish I could “speak/write with authority about something” (like you, Shirley, or whoever I’m near at the moment).
I sometimes succumb to belittling my life and interests because I haven’t made a lot of money, and following those things that give me joy probably won’t make money…I’m depending a lot on my partner and other people.
When I can actually separate career and vocation in my understanding and thinking, I am much more merciful to myself.
Blessings to you in your transitions this Advent.
Delores, I feel the tenderness of this topic for you, and I am glad you have the courage to speak about it. I am sure others feel this way too sometimes. In fact, I have been jealous of others who seem to be more confident or focused than I at various times in my own life.
You have uncovered your own wisdom on this subject:”When I can actually separate career and vocation in my understanding and thinking, I am much more merciful to myself.”
What I like about the Father Michael Himes video above is that it never talks about money or prestige but only about gifts, joy, and service. You have these in abundance, Dolores.
Thanks for the blessings. I return that wish to you. I am sure you are grieving the terrible Oakland fire.
Yes, this city is grieving.
Just after writing I came face to face with this quote that reminds me why I can let go of shame about joy.
“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
I love that quote! Good one for the bathroom mirror, 🙂
What a profound quote!
I must share the words of a song written in 1921.
“Take Joy home and make a place in thy great heart for her;
Then will she come and oft will sing to thee
When thou art plowing in the furrows; aye,
Or weeding in the sacred hour of dawn.
It is a comely fashion to be glad;
Joy, Joy is the grace we say to God!”
This is a key to a good life in any vocation.
Glen, thank you for this song; I’d love to hear the words sung with music. Maybe I’ll make up a tune.
I went in search of music for this song and did not find it. However, I did find this poem.
“Joy is the Grace We Say to God”
by Ray Bradbury
Joy is the Grace we say to God
for his gifts given.
It is the leavening of time,
it splits our bones with lightning,
fills our marrow
with a harrowing of light
and seeds our blood with sun,
and thus we
put out the night
put out the night.
Tears make an end of things;
so weep, yes, weep.
But joy says, after that, not done…
No, not by any means. Not done.
Take a breath and shout it out.
That laugh, that cry which says: begin again,
so all’s reborn, begun.
Now hear this, Eden’s child,
remember in thy green Earth’s heaven,
Joy is the grace we say to God.
The first words of this poem are the last words of St. Ignatius at the end of the Exercises. The contempletio. https://predmore.blogspot.com/2013/05/poem-joy-is-grace-we-say-to-god-by-ray.html
Thank you, Glen, for sharing the poem. I agree with you completely about the good life in any vocation.
Shirley — The smiles in the “kindred spirits” photograph at the end of this post are contagious. I’m still grinning as I type this comment.
YES, the three questions of vocation are relevant to my present stage of life.
YES, I have a community in my life wherein questions like these are welcome (part of it online, part of it in person).
YES, my vocation is a tremendous source of joy. Being a “channel of grace” (the immediate presence of Spirit) is an intentional choice to leverage my gifts in service to the people in my sphere of influence.
Your joy in vocation radiates in everything I have seen you write online, in your book, NOTE TO SELF, and in person, Laurie. You inspire me and many others. I’m so glad you can say “YES” to each of these questions.
We share the vocation of sharing our vocations. ?
Shirley, it seemed my vocations changed with what place in life I found myself. I had great joy in working at a German/English bookstore after high school for five years. Then I got married and motherhood became my joyous vocation (I was greatly surprised at how much I loved it). When the children got older I went back to school and loved every minute of my studies in German/English literature. I couldn’t stop doing it until I got to the end of the road with PhD in hand. During that time I also taught undergrads and ended up with private tutoring at home and in a Mennonite High School. Now I’m retired and am turning to writing as a source of joy and (hopefully) service to people I love.
As I read this history, Elfrieda, it seems joy definitely guided you through many stages of your vocation. You also were holding a thread all along. That thread was a gift for language. Am I right? Even as a mother, I am sure you used that gift. It seems coupled with your joy.
So glad your vocation continues to evolve. Jubilación — what is the German equivalent of that name?
I sense both wistfulness and joy in your post this week. The skin of ice/deep water metaphor is perfect.
Like you, I enjoy engaging with the younger set – you here currently with Jess and others at Collegeville and me with my grands and the pre-school children at church. The young are more fresh from the “mint of nature” than I am and so help me retrieve and maintain my sense of wonder and joy. Obviously you feel the same.
Many homes for the elderly have daycare centers somewhere on campus allowing the young to mingle with those who are less mobile – and with mutual benefit. Landis Homes in PA is one example.
Your posts are always so rich and layered. I want to learn more about the similarities and differences between Benedictine and Jesuit approaches. And I envision myself listening to the video and savoring some chocolate ice cream very soon. Thank you for the enlightenment today, Shirley!
WP doesn’t seem to be wanting the two of us to connect today, Marian. Your gravitar didn’t show up here, and I had to manually approve your comment, which shouldn’t happen. Hmm. . .
Lovely way to put the value of youth — closer to the mint of nature!
You will enjoy the video, I am sure. It is very quirky and dated in some ways, but it’s also clear and relevant guidance for today as well as yesterday and for all ages.
Enjoy the chocolate ice cream. Probably not Hersheys, though. 🙂
These are great questions, Shirley. As I look back on the vocational path I have been blessed to travel, and consider my current position on that path, all three questions (for the most part) could be answered in the affirmative. I have only had 6 “jobs” and interestingly, the first one lead to the next…which lead to the next…and so on. Now I have “circled back” frequently to the same location of my first job, just in a different role.
For two summers in college, I was a guide at Greenfield Village (part of The Henry Ford), then I became a Resident Advisor (RA) and an Assistant Hall Director, as I studied to become a teacher. For 13.5 years I taught 8th grade English, and continued my education to get a Master’s Degree in guidance and counseling. During the 25 years as a middle school guidance counselor, I worked with a team of colleagues (all women) who organized and conducted educational tours to DC for our 8th graders. Six years before retiring, I earned certification to become a Tour Director.
Now as I enJOY my seventh year of “retirement” from full time work, I frequently take my tour groups to The Henry Ford where I worked as a guide almost 48 years ago.
ALL of my jobs (especially my current position) have brought me joy, and fully used my gifts and talents. Since they have all been in the service sector, I have to believe they have served those around me, and with the “ripple effect”…hopefully society at large.
How utterly fascinating, Sue. Vocation has woven itself in organic ways throughout your life. Even though you probably could not have predicted the subtle changes of each stage of life you could enJOY each one. Love that idea. Your vocational journey would make a great illustration for the “three key question” video.
You also address some of the questions that others here have mentioned. You sometimes had a career, and usually had a job, but when both ended, you still have a vocation! I’m sure all the other things you did in your life now make you an excellent tour guide.
I remember taking our children to Greenfield Village. Maybe I’ll get to take my grandchildren also.
Thanks for your comment. Come back again.
Thanks for sharing this inspiring video, Shirley. I did not view it before writing my response above…I just wrote based on the three questions.
I especially appreciated the following statement:
“Joy is the delight one takes in being dissatisfied. It is the deep delight that one feels in being called to something still before you—to a new decision and to a new way of living.”
That kind of “dissatisfaction” has played a major role in where I have been, where I AM, and where I AM going.
It’s that “still small voice” that urges me forward.
A “dream” that has attached itself and apparently doesn’t want to let go, is working with women who are in the throes of the midlife transition in preparation for the third age. I can clearly see “parallels” between a child transitioning into adulthood AND adults transitioning into “second adulthood.”
These are times when “major life decisions” are made, and a conscious consideration of the three questions could make all the difference for women, their friends and families, and society as a whole. When a woman’s life improves…the “ripple effect” is never ending.
It’s deeper than, “If momma ain’t happy…”
It’s more about momma finding her JOY…
I identify with so much that you’ve written here, Sue. Since we are quoting saints, the dissatisfaction idea was best expressed by Augustine: “Our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”
I also rely on the inner sense of being pulled forward.
Perhaps this post will help you as you keep listening for the still small voice of the next phase of jubilación: https://vocationmatters.org/2016/11/01/now-and-later-a-new-way-to-imagine-vocation/
So clarifying, Shirley, and I envy the students there being pressed on such questions. I love his distinction between happiness and joy. For me, writing and education—both teaching and learning— are joy. Maybe my task is increasingly to combine the two or to see how they’re already combined.
Yes, Richard. I sense that both of us are learners at the very core of our beings, and that we teach ourselves and our students, and they, in return, teach us the mysteries. The history of the university cannot be separated from the history of the monastery, and here there is a learning lab going on every day. So fascinating to observe. I sense you are making inner space for jubilación in your own life. Can’t wait to see the forms it takes!
At various times during my career, I have been asked to do things that were not my first joy. They were tasks the church agency I worked for needed to have done. They were not joy sappers, however, and that is a different thing. I jumped into them and gave them my all, learning all the while and that gave me joy in the end. Does that make sense? That is how I have survived, I think, job and budget cuts that are a forever part of working for nonprofits. 🙂
What a great contribution to this discussion, Melodie. What jumped out at me immediately was that joy and service are connected. Sometimes we do things because our community, or our employer, needs them. We learn that growing up on the farm, don’t we?
“They were not joy sappers, however.” May guess is that you always found a way to learn, and the category of service comes naturally to you. As does the patience to wait for the joy to emerge.
And congratulations to you for being flexible enough to survive the ebbs and flows of life not only in the nonprofit world but in the challenging publishing world. Hats off to you!
I love the three questions. These questions mirror those I’ve employed in career/professional development in the past using a Venn diagram to illustrate it. In one of the intersecting circles are talents, skills, capabilities, and qualities. In the other intersecting circle are passions, in your model joys. And at the center intersection place are needs (which may differ based on context)these may be organizational needs or needs in a community, family or society. The center place is the opening for expression of the other two aspects. It just hit me that many people have struggled with identifying passions perhaps because passions seem stronger or out of reach. Joy, however, or Jublication your term, is more accessible because it can be small or expand to life-affirming. Much more to say but I’m off to a meeting. Yes, yes, and thank you.
It just hit me, too, Audrey. Thanks to you. I like the word joy very much. Better than happiness. Better than passions.
I hope you’ll come back to future posts and continue thinking with me about these issues of vocation and age. Your coaching background offers all of us here insights we could not otherwise have access to.
Glad we can continue connecting. You should know the place where Jessica sat very well!
Shirley, this is wonderful! Thank you as always for your adept ability to find the wisdom of life shining in the cracks everywhere—especially in relation to our sacred vocations. It’s timely for me. The grief and and questions about joy…tapping talents and gifts in service of the world.
I’m so glad you found this post useful, Anita. I wish I had time to sit down and write a blog post about you and your work! Maybe we can still squeeze one in. I have been captivated by your passion for the water protectors at Standing Rock, your great lecture here at SJU on Dismantling the Doctrine of Discovery, and, of course, your love for the land and the bees.
You have joy, gifts, and a desire to serve. These will continue to guide you as you travel the vocation journey. Thanks for sharing this comment.
Thank you for this stimulating post and the resources you pointed us toward. Yes, the questions about vocation continue to be as relevant now as in the past. I feel very blessed to have known fulfillment throughout most of my working life in all three arenas: the experience of abundant joy, the satisfaction of using my gifts fully, and being of service — not because I made it happen but because doors opened in surprising ways. For example, during the years I worked for the Mennonite Church, one of my most satisfying, but unexpected, assignments was serving as editor of worship resources for our hymnbooks and seasonal worship resources. Even though the work was demanding, it never seemed onerous. I could see how “vocations lead to vocations” in the way the previous parts of my life (teacher of literature and writing, lover of poetry, student of worship, etc.)provided what I needed for a job I didn’t even know existed.
Now, in retirement, the three questions are worth revisiting. The question about “joy” remains central and reliable; the question about gifts seems to have broadened to include hitherto unexplored or unknown gifts; and the question about being of service also seems to have expanded to include the “little tasks,” not just what looks like significant service on the surface. Does that make sense?
Yes indeed you make sense, Marlene. You have moved seamlessly from one joy to another, building new sets of skills, and redefining what service means all along.
I’m particularly interested in your last paragraph. Would love to know more about the exploration of unexplored, unknown gifts. Sometimes I think of these as “the road not taken.” Gifts that were not developed because others were needed more. Now we get to go back and try out the other paths.
And the “little tasks” rather than the “big ones” of serving a denomination or an institution. . . I like that idea too. Would love to have a few concrete illustrations. Are you thinking of local community service, house holding and care taking?
Yes, Shirley, what I had in mind most immediately was the shift of service from public, visible arenas to the very ones you’ve mentioned: serving homemade soup regularly to homeless and elderly folk (“Just Soup” on Wednesday noons at our church); visiting an elderly friend as she moves in and out of the hospital or care centers and back home again; and all the housecleaning and cooking it takes to host the many guests who find their way to St. Bride’s in Port Townsend. I simply didn’t have time for this kind of service at an earlier stage of life — and yet in surprising ways, these roles are just as satisfying.
I observe this among my friends as well. One woman, with a PH D in nutrition science, now chops vegetables for a couple of hours every week in preparation for the soup-making at church. Another woman, a former counselor in a college, spends a morning every week assisting with craft activities in a day-care center for mentally handicapped adults. What interests me is the deep joy they both experience.
I do wonder if our lives would have been richer had there been more of this hands-on service in the midst of our public, professional roles.
Love these illustrations, Marlene. Yes, the acts of direct service to others are life-giving to all concerned. I remember feeling guilty as a busy professional and mother that I didn’t do enough to both help those less fortunate and model the joy of service to my children. Yes, there were pies for the relief sale and refugee resettlement shopping for housing and furnishings, but nothing regular. I could have made WMSC at the church fit my schedule and could have learned sewing skills too, but there never seemed to be enough time.
And I haven’t done lots of service yet in my jubilación years. Yes, MDS in New Orleans, yes Bridge of Hope mentor and now mentor to a young girl at church but not yet something every week. Grandchildren are the focus of discretionary time now and they will be until they are more fully engaged in school activities.
The evolution of service is also like the evolution of our vocations themselves. It expands and contracts as other elements of our lives do so. I think the important thing is to realize the importance of service and not be too hard on ourselves if at any given time we are more public, or familial, or hands-on than at another time.
I think this might need to become the subject of a new blog post. 🙂
Shirley, thank you so much! I am going to listen to the link you provided. The poems are very powerful and reminders of Joy – Joy to the World and may we all find those sparks within as we traverse our lives. Thank you for these big questions. They push me in ways I know that I must my give attention to. It is posts such as yours in which I feel a sense of community – at a distance removed surely but nevertheless of immense value. The comments are very thought provoking also …and remind me of times past where joy was uppermost and continues in many ways – Nature, my family and friends, in the small services I provide .. and I can see joy clearly in your lovely photographs!
Thank you, Susan, for these kind words. Your voice all the way from South Africa makes me sing Joy to the World also. The internet, we are discovering, can be used for evil, but it also has enabled us to connect to good and light and joy. I’m grateful to whomever (Marian or Merril?)first brought you into the wider community of joy lovers who gather here.
I want to stay connected as we travel similar paths in our thinking, writing, and being.
How wonderful this is as I consider what needs to happen next in my life–not immediately, but soon. Joy needs to go to the top of the list. That opens the possibility of taking a risk to find that joy. Life became more somber after Vic’s death. Hearing loss and instability demanded more adjustments I’m still making. The other points are easier for me right now. Thank you for helping me stir the joy juices, Shirley. It’s obvious that you and Jessica have become lifetime friends. And it’s obvious that your semester at Collegeville has stirred plenty of juice for you.
Thank you, Dolores, for this quote: “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
“Stirring the joy juices” is a wonderful way to describe a way to open oneself to the special kind of joy that comes after a series of devastating losses. I can’t wait to hear what happens in your life as you make joy a more conscious quest/decision/invitation. I know you feel joy in nature, with your children, and with your animals.
“Taking a risk to find that joy” names a willingness to actively participate in a spiritual process. You know all about that because you have seen the “infallible signs” in His Holiness and others you revere.
I’ll light a candle for your new and deeper joy, Elaine. Here in the dark of the deep wood.