A neighbor's peaceful pathway.
Very early one morning I saw a woman doing a walking meditation, such as Buddhists do, pausing after each step taken, perhaps pondering a koan. As I drew closer, I realized the “koan” she concentrated on so intently was, in truth, an iPad.
Running through the park, I approached a young man sitting in the lotus position, his face downturned in meditation. As I passed by, however, I saw his thumbs busily texting.
On each occasion, the only hope of my original fantasy was that they were tweeting or texting their spiritual directors or gurus!
We all know of such impulses to check tweets, messages, e-mails, and news media! C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters comes to mind, in which Screwtape advises Wormwood, his tempter in training, to put into his ward’s head the impulse to take a break just as he’s about to discover something important to his spiritual progress, thus distracting him.
One dictionary defines vocation as “an impulse to perform a certain function.” Vacation is defined as freedom from such an impulse, a letting go of our compulsions to do things we have always done, a release from doing things the way we have always done them. Thus vacation invites play.
I’ve known too many people, including clergy, who brag about never or rarely taking a vacation. In my view, vacation is a vital balance to vocation, as necessary to one’s work as sleep and nutrition and compensation.
Some of us get away from our work by going away, but others of us get away from our work by going within: inside ourselves, listening to that inner voice that is the root of the word “vocation.”
I’ve been reading a lot about the spiritualities of the desert: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim. The desert is an excellent place to listen for God’s voice, our own voice, the voice of a lover or friend or calling. Distractions are diminished, silence surrounds, we may breathe easier, we may breathe.
In deserts, Moses heard God’s voice, Miriam danced, Elijah listened for “a voice of a gentle stillness,” Naomi accepted Ruth’s vow, Jesus pondered his vocation and found lonely places to pray, Amma Theodora identified acedia (spiritual lethargy), Muhammad received his divine mission.
Progressive Christians have our wilderness too. We are letting go of religious compulsions to rediscover the God of the desert (metaphorically).
Writing of desert spirituality in Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton concluded that “without the disquieting capacity to see and to repudiate the idolatry of devout ideas and imaginings…the Christian cannot be delivered from the smug self-assurance of the devout ones who know all the answers in advance, who possess all the clichés of the inner life and can defend themselves with infallible ritual forms against every risk and every demand of dialogue with human need and human desperation [108-9].”
Perhaps vacation from religious compulsion is also our vocation.
This post appeared on this blog on July 11, 2012.
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