Ordinary Vocation

Feb 13 / Witty Sandle
In daily life, our call is to live in a posture of receptivity to the formational gifts each day offers. The call to the here and now urges us to pay heed to what or who is before us. It is an invitation to celebrate the ordinary vocation.

What prevents us from living into this call? May I suggest that more than ever before, it's the zeitgeist of our age? People have always wanted their lives to be meaningful and to matter. However, the waters we swim in during this era have heightened that natural inclination to unhealthy levels. This is especially true for Generation Z, a group with whom I work, who are slammed daily with the needs of the world and meta-narratives of "living your best life." Those well past the Gen Z stage are not immune to these messages. Our 24/7 Instagram and Tik Tok world would have us believe that "reaching for the stars," going for your dreams," and having careers that you are "passionate about" are the norms. The ordinary life, we are told in a thousand ways, is not good enough. Yet true and lasting transformation comes not in the exceptional times but through our commonplace experiences.

This "Spirit of the Age" is not helped by some common notions of the word "vocation." It is a word that carries immense weight, bearing future hopes and promising lives of glorious fulfillment in the pursuit of something great. However, if we take the etymology of the word seriously, we come to an expansive understanding that, at its most simple level, is about responding to a sense of call. When we comprehend this, we are free to break away from narrow definitions that inhibit its reach and embrace those that include the commonplace. In this broader view, vocation becomes about my daily encounters with others and my micro-decisions. It is the way I tend my garden or how I treat my co-workers. It is joining in with the giggles of my grandchildren and breathing in the fresh air on slow walks. Vocation is now, not some one-time event that declares the single grand plan of God for me. Instead, it is a series of imperceptible nudges to live wholeheartedly in the mundane.

One of my favorite fictional series' is the four Gilead Novels by Marilynne Robinson. Robinson charts the interweaving stories of two families. Set against the backdrop of small-town America, she brings us into a world that is rich with the very stuff of life. Page after page, Robinson describes people going about their business. They work, and they go to church (or not). They laugh and cry. Neighbors gather, and families are estranged. There is sadness, joy, loss, regret, and disappointment. Robinson's very style of prose makes us read slowly, holding up a mirror to our own lives. In doing so, she invites us to acknowledge that the ordinary cadence of the unremarkable honors our humanness, our real lives.

How may I live into the truth of the ordinary vocation? One answer lies in adopting a posture of receptivity. In this way, I am open to the treasures each day brings, treasures that shape me, forming me little by little into the kind of person that increasingly reflects the image of God. It is long, slow work, a call-and-response way of living that requires me to listen. Clinical psychologist John Neafsey, who is interested in Ignatian Spirituality, writes, "Listening carefully helps us learn how to live in this world. It helps us cultivate the kind of emotional, spiritual, and moral intelligence we need to make life choices that are suited to who we are and who we are called to become." [1]

This cultivation, a commitment to be grounded fully in the present, helps me surrender my grasp on the future as I become aware of my day-to-day, being infused with God's grace.

Perhaps the last word can go to Joan Chittister, the Benedictine nun who has blessed so many with her wisdom. She captures the ordinary vocation eloquently. "It is the way we live each of the circumstances of life, the hum-drum as well as the extraordinary, the daily as well as the defining moments, that determines the quality of our lives." [2]

Chittiser's contention encourages me to acknowledge that the ordinary vocation is very beautiful indeed.

1. John Neafsey. A Sacred Voice Is Calling : Personal Vocation and Social Conscience. Orbis Books, 2006.
2. Joan Chittister. Illuminated Life : Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light. Orbis Books, 2000.

Witty Sandle
Witty works as the Career and Vocational counsellor at The King’s University in Edmonton, Alberta, combining her professional career development background with her spiritual direction skillset. She graduated from Portland Seminary in 2019 with a Masters in Spiritual Formation. Witty is deeply interested in questions of vocation and significance. She describes her own vocation as seeking to be an attentive presence, creating safe spaces where others can discover all they are called to be. http://www.everydaypilgrimages.org