"What should I do with my life?" We never grow out of asking this question. The job we do to earn a living can fall short of being a vocation, and we're left wondering if there is more to life. Br. Jonathan Maury invites us to listen for the eternal call of God, speaking in our circumstances and ushering us to the fullness of life we were born to discover.
Click on the tabs below to explore the topic of vocation through Jonathan's reflection, suggested practices, reflection questions, and further resources. Click here to view and download a print-friendly version of this offering.
Br. Jonathan Maury lives at the Monastery in Cambridge where he serves as Brother Pastor for the worshipping congregation and Director of the Fellowship of Saint John. He delights in praying lectio divina with scripture and Dame Julian of Norwich (and sometimes with musical and pop songs – or even opera arias).
the eternal call of God
From time to time retreatants, inquirers, and other visitors to our houses say to us, “What a special blessing to be called to a monastic vocation!” When this happens, I am quick to remind them that every vocation is a special blessing for a particular person: the grace to fully become the beloved creature whom God has envisioned each of us to be from before creation. Vocation has its first beginnings before we are born, emerging from the mystery of divine Love.
The call of God is present in the birth of every child of any race or nation. Whatever the circumstances of parents and child, the wonder of a co-creation with God – conscious or unconscious on the part of the human agents – has taken place. A new, fragile, and glorious human person comes into being. Each human being is then shaped by life circumstances, personal experiences, and choices.
Conscious commitment to discerning vocation begins for Christians with Holy Baptism, when a covenant with God is established. The Rule of Life of the Society of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist reminds us Brothers that the men whom God calls into our community “have been drawn into union with Christ by the power of his cross and resurrection; we have been reborn in him by water and the Spirit.” [i] Our common and personal vocations are realized through prayer, worship, and service as members of a community bound in mutual love – as it is for all members of the Body of Christ. Our founder Father Richard Meux Benson teaches us that in the profession of monastic vows, which are rooted in the vows of Holy Baptism, “the call of God…is continuous, abiding, and progressive. Continuous, because…the voice of the Spirit never ceases to call us into deeper union. Abiding, because the wisdom of God…is absorbed into our hearts never to perish. Progressive, because God’s voice will come to us in the future ever new…bringing us gifts beyond what we know now.” [ii] We brothers model in a very public way the same reliance on the voice of God, which leads people into their ‘several vocations.’
In his book, Crossing the Jordan: Meditations on Vocation, Episcopal priest Sam Portaro explores the similarities between Jesus’ sense of vocation and ours: “John’s gospel maintains that Jesus’ gift to us is that we might have life in all its fullness. God’s call, the source of our vocation, is a call to life’s fullness along a pathway charted by Jesus.”[iii] Portaro reads between-the-lines of Jesus’ recorded words and deeds in the gospels, and posits for him a lifelong path of growth into his particular vocation. For example, in the hidden years, Jesus’ “vocational” occupation seems to have been as a carpenter. His vocation as messiah only begins to dawn when he is drawn to John the Baptist at Jordan. Even then, it only gradually takes shape as Jesus moves from hearing John’s message of repentance, to performing acts of healing and exorcism in Israel and in Gentile territory, then moving on to the final journey to Jerusalem, to cross and resurrection and beyond. Growth into vocation as a child of God is unending for Jesus – and for us all.
In Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, Quaker Parker Palmer teaches, “Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.”[iv] Palmer bids his readers to view vocation not as a goal to be achieved but as a gift to be received. Every life experience leading us into selfhood, society with others, and service, becomes a vehicle for God’s call to be realized in vocation. In learning our limits and embracing failures, we can begin to recognize God’s particular gifts for us, which infuse our very being and form in us our unique vocation. The mistakes made and sins committed as we sought to come into our own are redeemed by being the means through which God comes to dwell within us, inviting us to embrace our true selves, which is the essence of vocation in Christ.
The grace to persevere in receptivity to and wonder at the ever-evolving gift of being itself comes only through prayer. Periodically I examine the depth of my engagement with the gift of vocation by praying and reflecting on The Book of Common Prayer’s rite of Holy Baptism, both the Baptismal Vows[v] and the questions following the Creed in the Baptismal Covenant.[vi] The former immerse me in the renunciations of evil and the adhesions to Jesus Christ as the font from which all Christian vocation emerges. The latter provide a form of examination – in the light of God’s love – of my desires and actions, achievements and failures, hopes and dreams as they transform my whole self into that image of Christ which God ever calls me to become.
[i] Chapter 1, The Rule of Life of the Society of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 1997).
[ii] Chapter 39, The Rule of Life of the Society of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist.
[iii] Sam Portaro, Crossing the Jordan: Meditations on Vocation (Cambridge, MA: Cowley, 1999).
[iv] Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Jossey-Bass, 2000).
[v] Book of Common Prayer (1979), 302-303.
[vi] Book of Common Prayer, 304-305.