Sophia means “wisdom” in Greek. She was the legendary mother of the virgin martyrs Faith, Hope and Charity. Three days after their deaths she is said to have passed peacefully away while praying by their tomb, and is thought to be the personification of an allegory. Meaning, I guess, that if we lose the first three, wisdom is doomed to follow. Or, wisdom exists only because of the three things it has given “birth” to. Jeez…that’s a little deep, eh? I’ll stop before I hurt myself.
The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard has reminded us that “we know backward, but we must live forward.” And so we must, but I’m taking a moment today to sneak a peek back. Doing so reveals to me my “forward.”
I recall writing that I had “found my vocation.” Our vocation is not only the way that we love God but also the way that God loves us. In Ephesians St. Paul exhorts us to “live a life worthy of the calling” we have received. Thomas Merton, a 20th century Trappist monk wrote “a man knows when he has found his vocation when he stops thinking about living and begins living.” I believed I had finally found mine. I still do.
God’s invitation to live out our unique vocations is part of what makes the world so rich. “How gloriously different are the saints,” wrote C.S. Lewis. Problems arise when we begin to believe that we have to be someone else to be holy. We try to use someone else’s map to heaven when God has already planted in our soul all the directions we need. In that way, we ignore our own call to sanctity. When admirers used to visit Calcutta to see Mother Teresa, she would tell many of them, “Find your own Calcutta.”
Mother Teresa not only had her order of nuns, but she also had an order of priests and brothers. One of the brothers came complaining to Mother. He was mad at his superior because the superior asked the brother to do something other than what he wanted to do, so he got very frustrated. He went running to Mother and said, “Mother, my vocation is to work with lepers.” Mother said, “Your vocation, Brother, is to belong to Jesus. That is your vocation. That means you will do anything He tells you. If you belong to Jesus, you will be His fool.” Mother was echoing St. Paul when he says:
Let no one deceive himself. If any one among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool so as to become wise. – 1 Cor 3:18
This is a difficult concept for we Americans in this secular age. We’re not a terribly humble bunch. We refuse to submit ourselves to any authority, let alone something from as “antiquated” and “irrelevant” as Scripture. So we continue to fumble along in the dark, pissed off when things don’t work, convinced that we were right, someone else was wrong, and the way to get our way is to sue someone or completely tear down their character. Just read any story online in your local paper or favorite website for news these days, paying special attention to the comment boxes. It used to be rare to see so much ignorance on parade. Now it is our national pastime.
Thomas Merton, in No Man Is an Island wrote: Why do we have to spend our lives striving to be something that we would never want to be, if we only knew what we wanted? Why do we waste our time doing such things which, if we only stopped to think about them, are just the opposite of what we were made for?
It’s no secret that I love to write. For the past few years I really believed I had at long last found my vocation. What I was made for. Once I figured that out, however, I began to try too hard. I put too much pressure upon myself to “perform.” I had forgotten the cardinal rule of writing: above all write for yourself. Once you begin to write for a specific audience or people the vocation can become an albatross about your neck. Mine grew quite heavy. I have learned and been reminded that it is not necessary that we succeed in everything. A man can be perfect and still reap no fruit from his work, and it may happen that a man who is able to accomplish very little is much more of a person than another who seems to accomplish very much.
Merton reminded me that fame is not the reason one writes. The burning desire for fame is of course a manifestation of pride, a pride that seeks not the hiddenness of the desert or the humility of the unseen act, but the adulation of others. Ultimately it is a destructive mind-set, since one can never receive enough acclaim to satisfy the craving for attention or fame or notoriety. Inexorably, it leads to despair and so must be resisted. But while the path to humility is necessary, it is a difficult one to tread. In Henri Nouwen’s words, one strives to seek the freedom to be “hidden from the world, but visible to God.”
And I wonder if the more hidden the act, the more valued it is by God. I am reminded of the legend of a master sculptor in one of the great medieval cathedrals of France. The old man spent hours and hours carving the back of a statue of Mary, lovingly finishing the intricate curves and folds of her gown. But, someone asked the sculptor, what’s the point? That statue will be placed in a dark niche against the wall, where certainly no one will ever see the back of it.
God will see it, he answered.
I long for that kind of holiness. But I am very far from it. To find that type of holiness and success in my vocation leaves me with little to no time for blogging. I also prefer to write for myself for now, as well as for my children. It was with this intention in mind that I began a project in November. It is a love letter of sorts to my children. Actually, it’s twenty-six letters. Will other eyes read them one day? Perhaps. But I find that the words have come easier by sitting down to write them in long hand with pen and paper, addressed to my kids, before typing it into my computer.
On Friday night when I arrived home from work my daughter did what she often does. She gets a running head of steam and flies towards me, arms outstretched, for what I have dubbed the “Sophie Sassafras Slam-bam Hug” (Sassafras being her family nickname). I scoop down and fling her up into the air to a chorus of giggles. Lately she’s been insisting that she is no longer a little girl, but as she is turning four on Monday she is in fact a “big girl.” Holding Sophie tonight parallel to the ground and looking up at me I asked her “Where’s my little girl? Who is this big girl in my arms? Where is my little girl?”
“Is she under here?” I lifted up her shirt and blew a raspberry on her tummy to squeals of laughter. “No dad! I’m right here. I’m a big girl!”
I turned her over to face the ground and repeated the question as well as the raspberry on her lower back. “Is my little girl back here?” More squeals of delight. “No! Dad, I’m a big girl!”
Holding her in my arms so we are face-to-face I repeat the question. “Where is my little girl?”
Sophie took my face in her hands and with her blue eyes looking into mine she smiled and said “I’m right here, dad.”
And so she is.
In the Psalms there is a verse for fathers that while especially true in the more agrarian society of three thousand years ago when many hands were needed with the flocks or the crops, it still holds truth today.
Children too are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quivers are full. They will never be shamed contending with foes at the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)
My sons are young, strong arrows and in my mind’s eye I imagine them as being green in color as they are still maturing. And then I have that younger, other arrow. It is lightly covered in glitter and has just a hint of a pink outline highlighted on its feathers.
These arrows are my vocation. Many secondary vocations come from this quiver. Writing is distant among them.
They are my faith, my hope and my charity. They are my Calcutta.
I am a willing fool. This is my Wisdom.
©2011 Jeff A Walker. All Rights Reserved.