This morning I have been looking back through Gene Edward Veith’s The Spirituality of the Cross. In it, he discusses Martin Luther’s concept of “vocation” as simply how we are related to other people (not the narrower meaning we often use of one’s paying job). So my vocations include being a daughter, a sister, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, as well as being a professional writer and being a teacher, the latter of which includes both being under the authority of my department head, my dean, and the college president and being in authority over my students. My vocations also include being a citizen of my town, my state, my country, as well as being a member of the church body, local and universal. All of these are “vocations” because they define particular relationships to other people and particular responsibilities of service in each of those relationships.
As I scanned underlined passages and marginalia, the following struck me as especially appropriate for the beginning of a new academic year:
The purpose of one’s vocation, whatever it might be, is serving others. It has to do with fulfilling Christ’s injunction to love one’s neighbor. Though justification has nothing to do with good works, vocation does involve good works. The Christian’s relationship to God is based on sheer grace and forgiveness on God’s part; the Christian’s relationship to other people, however, is to be based on love put into action. As Wingren [discussing Luther's concept] puts it, “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does.”
May this attitude be the foundation of all our work.
Gerard Manley Hopkins to the poet Robert Bridges: “I say it deliberately and before God, I would have you and Canon Dixon and all true poets remember that fame, the being known, though in itself one of the most dangerous things to man, is nevertheless the true and appointed air, element, and setting, of genius and its works. What are works of art for? to educate, to be standards. Education is meant for the many, standards are for public use. [. . .] Let your light shine before men that they may see your good works (say, of art) and glorify yr. Father in heaven [. . .].” (13 Oct. 1886)
A student posted this link to my FB wall this morning, to an article about the importance of taking time to delve into a good book long enough to get really into it, to become a part of its world. It takes time and reflection, silence and solitude, to let great ideas sink into the mind and soul. I know you are all busy, but I challenge you to sacrifice some of your FB and Twitter and IM and film/television time and use it to sit down with one of the great books — not a pop culture book, not a romance novel, but a truly excellent book — and let yourself be absorbed into it and changed by it. Read leisurely, read reflectively, read with an open heart. Don’t silence the great writers by refusing to ever hear them in the first place. Read your Bible this way, but don’t think that even that vital reading is enough; God gave us writers to flesh out His created world through their attempts to love and live well within it. Don’t think that you can challenge and change the world when you won’t let yourself be challenged and changed.
Update: I’ve added some book lists to the sidebar if you are interested.