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Vocation: What am I uniquely called to do?

My cell at Holy Cross Monastery, 2007

My cell at Holy Cross Monastery, 2007

For a couple of years now I’ve been wrestling with a troubling question: What does God want me to do?

Of course, it’s not just “troubling,” it’s an incredible opportunity. Imagine being able to do what God wants! Wouldn’t that be great?

But first we have to know what God wants. Then we have to figure out how to do it; we have to trust God enough to begin to do it, and we have to be stable enough, and faithful enough, to sustain us in whatever work or state of being is right for us.

This much I’ve learned; “what God wants” is not some decree from on high, but simply what is best for us, what uses our unique talents, gifts and personality, what enables us to become more and more ourselves.

I find lots of clues in that sentence; God does not want me to cure cancer, because I don’t know anything about it, have no background or experience, etc. God wants someone to cure cancer, but not me. God builds upon who we are, what we’ve done and who we can become.

Two years ago I went on retreat to Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York. It’s on the Hudson River across from Hyde Park, FDR’s home, and Poughkeepsie, the last stop on the Metro-North railway from the City, a lovely area near the Catskill Mountains. Strangely enough the west bank of the river is home to a bunch of monasteries and convents; people like to go to the river to refresh their souls, the same impulse as baptism. Should I become a monk?

I had a nice time, the guys treated me well. The Order has several Gay members, always has, they’re well-integrated into the life of the community. Everyone’s seeking God, not sex, and over time they find God there. I’m very happy to support OHC, but I came away knowing I didn’t belong there.

So where do I belong? What should I be doing? How can I serve God, just being Josh? I didn’t even know how to ask these questions, much less answer them. So I found a spiritual director half an hour from home, an ordained Presbyterian woman, my second religious facilitator. We meet for 90 minutes once a month and the question is vocation—though of course that also includes everything going on in my life.

I heartily recommend that everyone find a spiritual director. The process of examining one’s spiritual life, with a view to deepening one’s relationship with God, is worth a lot more than the $40 Marcia charges. She’s fantastic. So was Tom, a Disciples of Christ minister who worked with me the year before. Seriously, if you’re at all stuck or drifting in your relationship with the Holy One, get thee to a director.

For ten months now I’ve been meeting with Marcia, and yes, I’ve come to a few understandings; God wants me to continue posting the Daily Office website and blog. That’s my principal work, for God and myself, at this time. Very few people put the Liturgy of the Hours online so it’s easy to pray, I do it in a fairly distinctive way, and reach a small but worldwide audience. So keep doing that.

Second, I ought to do what only I can do, what I’m uniquely capable of and passionate about, even good at. And I do have such a project, writing a novel about a Gay Christian marriage, a sequel to my first novel that actually sold a little bit.

I’ve been working on this book since 1996, which is pretty pathetic. But I do keep plugging away at it, and I have another blog with nine chapters posted. (I spend most of my time revising them rather than finishing the next 40 chapters.) All I can say is that the book is very difficult because of course I’m no expert in Gay Christian marriages. What do I know? I’ve been single since 1993. And while I’d like to think my last relationship was a bit of a template, at least in terms of my commitment, in fact that relationship ended.

I used to think my vocation was to be in such a marriage, but God’s been awfully tardy about sending me anyone new. Most likely I wouldn’t have deserved anyone if God had been quick about it. Stability is a difficult thing to learn; ask the monks.

This relates to the third thing I’ve come to with Marcia: I can’t get closer to the Divine if I’m simultaneously resisting getting closer—and this resistance is the essence of humanity. We always, always, always resist. You could even call this original sin; we ourselves put the mortality into our mortal being.

Earlier this month Marcia (well, Jesus actually) walked me into the Blue Cave. (See my earlier entry about this dream here.)

I only made it two steps before I broke down crying, but Jesus held out his hand to me and I stepped in.

Jesus held out his hand to me!

So I know I don’t have to live in this stuck place; that the Blue Cave isn’t scary, even if I feel scared. That’s just my resistance, being afraid to change.

In the Gospels Jesus talks about “those who gain their lives will lose them; and those who lose their lives for my sake will find them.” It’s one of those paradoxes he loved to use when he taught. But what does it mean? And how do we take his advice/promise, if we can bring ourselves to do so?

There are a lot of ways to interpret this, but maybe the most practical insight comes from Alcoholics Anonymous, which I’ll paraphrase thusly:

Trying to run my own life screws me up so bad that I don’t have any choice left but to turn it over to God. It’s either that or croak.

I wonder if we don’t all face that existential choice sooner or later, regardless of what we’re addicted to.

We all get deceived by our own autonomy. “I’m in charge here, no one’s going to live my life but me. I’ve got to take the bull by the horns, lift myself up by the bootstraps, stop procrastinating, full steam ahead, (insert your favorite slogan here).”

I mean, that’s all nice while it lasts, but it won’t last. No man is an island, we need other people too much—but the humans aren’t reliable either.

A couple of weeks ago the humorist Garrison Keillor had a stroke; so much for running his own life, eh? He’s back at work now, good as new almost. A blood clot turned his brain into a cheese omelet.

Whether we’re 17 or 67, we all get to that point. Every crisis, physical or economic or psychological, becomes a spiritual crisis if we have the guts to face it. I’m only now acquiring the guts to face mine.

This I’ve known for awhile: God is not some kind of psychic imperialist demanding you give him all your money, control and selfhood. God is not Robert Mugabe. (And woe to the guy who is.)

God is gentle, available, inviting—that’s all. It’s always your choice what to do.

But it doesn’t take a genius to see that my resisting knowing my vocation is the same as resisting the book I want to write—and both are proxies for the main issue. Who’s in charge here?

I’d love to be but I only screw it up. I have more ways to ruin things than there are leaves on my backyard maple tree. And baby, that thing’s loaded.

My Tree 10.23.07

So I am learning this week to be content with my two vocations; to learn to be stable enough, quiet and patient enough (hell, just plain sober enough) to wait until God supplies some more agenda.

God has given me creative work in the past, meaning, friendships, fun; I don’t have those right now, but I know God will supply me with more, just like Job.

I have to be faithful enough to wait, and listen, and recognize that humility isn’t just a decision of mind but a state of being. The principal thing we have to learn in this life is we’re not God, no matter how much we run around thinking we’re in charge of our little worlds.

What am I going to do in the meantime? I’m going to get my hair cut, go to the store to buy dinner, post another Office at midnight; and I’m going to finish that book as if I knew what marriage is about, Straight or Gay. No one else knows before they get married, so why should I?

But I do have a fuzzy vision, and that’s the work God gives me to do.++

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