“How can we hear and respond to God’s call for our lives?”

Laura Kelly Fanucci

Laura Kelly Fanucci

by Laura Kelly Fanucci, Project Researcher, Collegeville Institute

From the time we are children and teenagers, people ask us questions like, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What are you going to do with your life?” Sometimes such questions seem exciting and full of possibility. Other times they feel oppressive and overwhelming. Yet at every stage of life’s journey-at mid-career or at retirement, for example-we are full of questions about what to do, where to go, who to be.

How can we learn to see where God is leading us through our journey? How can we become aware of how God speaks to us, often in “tiny whispering sounds”? How do we understand what God wants for and from our lives? These are questions of vocation that call for careful discernment.

Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities?

The process of discernment is a centuries-old Christian practice of personal prayer and reflection with others that examines our lives in light of what we know about God’s hopes, dreams, and love for us. Discernment involves paying attention to our experiences in order to recognize God’s presence. Where do we notice God at work- in our relationships, in our work, or in our everyday activities? What other voices around us are competing with God’s voice or leading us towards selfish, even evil, inclinations instead of the good God wants for us? What patterns do we notice about how we make decisions: are we careful planners or do we simply fall into situations without much thought? How do we choose? Through discernment we consider our inner thoughts as well as our outward actions; we listen to ourselves, to others, to our community and our context.

Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life.

The Christian tradition offers many formal practices of discernment. Ignatian spirituality uses a review of where God’s presence is felt throughout the day (called the examen). Quakers gather “clearness committees” where a group helps an individual to discern God’s voice within them and find clarity about a question or dilemma. The practice of lectio divina that you are learning from the Rule of Saint Benedict is another discernment process with a long history of helping Christians sort out God’s voice from the many other voices that call to us.

But many people already have informal habits of discernment. Perhaps you have a trusted friend that you talk to about big decisions. Maybe you journal or pray or take long walks when you are wrestling with important questions. Your discernment practices are the ways you reflect on your life and make decisions based on what God reveals to you through your life:

“Vocation…comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about-quite apart from what I would like it to be about-or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.

…Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I must live-but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.

–From Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

We often think of God’s call as a voice that is heard. The word “vocation” comes from the Latin word vocare which means “to call,” and “calling” has traditionally been another term for “vocation.” And people often talk about discernment as “listening for God’s call” or “hearing God’s voice,” as in the stories in Scripture when God speaks from a burning bush (Exodus 3:1-4:17) or wakes someone with a voice in the night (1 Samuel 3:1-18). Yet it seems that most of us do not experience God’s call through a booming voice from heaven that tells us where to go or what to do. Instead, we are called by God through the people and places, the events and the encounters, the challenges and the changes of our everyday lives. God communicates with us through conversations and questions, through friends and family, through our own hopes and thoughts. Maybe we feel “pulled” or “drawn” towards one decision instead of another. Perhaps we see signs or feel led down a certain path. These can all be ways that God reveals our vocation to us.

And vocation is not just God’s call to us; it is also our response to God. We call on God in turn as we struggle to figure out where and how to live out our vocations. Discernment practices are valuable for questions of vocation because they help us develop habits for exploring our relationship with God. While it takes effort and patience to learn how to look and listen for God, such habits of discernment can help us during times of doubt, fear or anxiety about our vocations. Making time and space for discernment can open our ears and our hearts to find God in the “tiny whispering sounds” of our lives.

************************************************************************************************************************

Excerpted from “Called to Life: Reflecting on Vocation” a curriculum we are using as part of the Following the Spirit discernment series. We are happy to be able to share this as a resource from the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research. –Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion; Co-Facilitator, “Following the Spirit” Discernment Series

Practices of Discernment: Learning to Listen – Elijah’s Experience

Image from The Foundation Stone; blog by by Rabbi Simcha Weinberg.

The following prayer and questions are ones we will draw on in Session Two of our Discernment Series. Session Two is entitled, “Learning to Listen: Practices of Discernment.” We are grateful to our partners at the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research for this curriculum and the resources they offer us.

Then the Lord said,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the Lord; the Lord will be passing by.”
A strong and heavy wind was rending the mountains and crushing rocks before the Lord— but the Lord was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake—but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake there was fire—but the Lord was not in the fire.
After the fire there was a tiny whispering sound.
When he heard this, Elijah hid his face in his cloak
and went and stood at the entrance of the cave.
A voice said to him, “Elijah, why are you here?”

1 Kings 19:11-13

  • Elijah expected to find God in a powerful force of nature. Instead, God was revealed to him in a “tiny whispering sound.” Have you ever experienced God’s presence in an unexpected way? What did this experience feel like? What did it teach you about God?
  • How do you think God communicates with us? Through other people, nature, music, events, prayer or worship, Scripture or other reading, the needs of the world, or our own thoughts or ideas? Name one or two ways you have experienced God communicating with you in your life. What message did God communicate to you?

Theology of Vocation: Five Characteristics

Professor Kathleen Cahalan, Director of Collegeville Institute Seminars

by Kathleen A. Cahalan, Director, Collegeville Institute Seminars

“Vocation encompasses a multiplicity of callings:  who I am, what I do, and how I live. It is dynamic and changing, not static or linear, not fully determined or preset at the outset of life.”

Through our research and reflection on vocation, we have identified five common themes in popular and academic literature that serve as a foundation for the theology of vocation developing in the project.

First, vocation is a call from God that is relational and dialogical.  God is the source of vocation, but human persons must hear and respond to that call through dialogue with God. God’s call is experienced commonly in four ways through:

  • an inner voice, often defined as conscience;
  • the gifts of the Holy Spirit;
  • divine providence, the way God cares and guides creation and history;
  • other people such as family and friends as well as strangers, the poor and those in need—all who call us to service.

Second, vocation relates to a Christian’s whole life. It does not refer to a part of life (work) or one type of work (ministry) or one type of life (religious community and celibacy). Vocation encompasses a multiplicity of callings:  who I am, what I do, and how I live. It is dynamic and changing, not static or linear, not fully determined or preset at the outset of life.

Third, vocation is a call both general and specific.  The general call is shared by all Christians to follow in the way of Christ, described through categories of service, discipleship, love, the gospel, and the commandments.  But vocation also refers to the specific ways in which we live out God’s call in marriage or single life, service and work.  The particularity of our callings is also determined by contextual factors such as gender, class, history, opportunities, and social location.  These specific aspects of vocation are the least developed by authors today (e.g., marriage, grandparent, woodworker, economist, dean).

Fourth, vocation relates to my whole life, my whole life long.  It is not just an issue for young adults but for every age:  children, teens, young adults, adults, those facing retirement, and the elderly all face vocational questions particular to their life’s journey.  There needs to be further reflection on vocation across the life span, especially as it relates to human experiences of suffering, sin, and loss, as well as discovery, change, creativity, joy, and relationships.

Finally, vocation relates to service and self-giving in community.  It is social and communal, not an individual experience or issue. It is mediated and discerned within community, and it is given by God for the sake of community.  Vocation also requires sacrifice, obedience, and the demand to listen to the needs of others and the world.

In contemporary theologies of vocation we see a movement away from specific denominational definitions toward approaches that speak to the broader Christian community. We see a rejection of vocation understood as a MapQuest search, a divine microchip, a hidden secret, or a blueprint, though many people may still carry these notions of vocation. While theologies of vocation understand God’s call to be more nuanced, complex, and contextual, many people have not been given the opportunity to reflect on vocation through new theological lenses.

*****************************************************************************************

Thank you to the Collegeville Institute Seminar’s “Called to Life” discernment series staff for permission to re-post this article — and for all the other online curricular support. For more info: http://collegevilleinstitute.org/calledtolife


“Many Callings: One Life” — A list by Amanda Steepleton

Amanda Steepleton, Discerner

Amanda Steepleton, Discerner

Monday, October 29, 2012, marked our third session, entitled “Many Callings/ One Life,” of our “Following the Spirit” Discernment Series at St. Jane House. Discerning participant Amanda Steepleton was our featured story-teller, reflecting on her life and journey to date. She began her narrative with the following abbreviated list of vocations/ roles/ identities that she has known in her 28 year journey. We post it here as fodder for your own reflections. How are you called? What titles, roles, responsibilities would you record as part of your own vocations list?

Vocations/Roles/Identities:

Daughter

Student

Craigslist housemate

Spanish learner

Border/immigration educator

Advocate

Fundraiser

Adult

Friend

Volunteer

Writer

Dreamer

Meaning maker

Depth seeker

Truth speaker

Reader

Advisor

Dog lover

Biker

Servant

Employee/team member

Aspiring veterinarian

Child of God

Listener

Witness/accompanier

Traveler

Explorer

Campus Minister

Singer

Waiter (one who waits)

“Praise of Wisdom” — Celebrating the Feminine Form in Scripture

Corein Brown

Corein Brown

This Easter season, Seeing the Word at Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary is reflecting on the faces of women illuminated in The Saint John’s Bible. These often overlooked Biblical women exhibit remarkable faith, courage, and love.

As I welcome my stretch marks, I cannot help but see them in this illumination and wonder what Wisdom, this female servant of God, might have to say to all of us women, and our ever shifting and expanding bodies.”

Corein Brown

This week our friend Corein Brown, graduate of Saint John’s School of Theology·Seminary and Research and Communications Associate for the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, shares a reflection on recognizing the dignity and wisdom of women, worthy of entering deeply into a relationship with God, knowing that it will stretch them as it brings new life. (Sirach 24)

We hope you enjoy this audio and visual reflection as much as we did!

Seeing the Faces of Women – Seeing the Word & The Saint John’s Bible – Praise of Wisdom from Web Coordinator on Vimeo.