November 10, 2012

The Rev. Patricia M. Grace: Finding our deep gladness

— Theologian, author and Presbyterian minister Frederick Buechner once said that our vocation, the thing that God calls us to do with our lives (as opposed to just our jobs), is found in the “place where our deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”  

People who have discovered their true vocation in life and live it are easy to spot, but often difficult to find. Some work out their vocation in their paid profession — these are truly the lucky ones. Others find their life’s calling in “avocations” — the activities they do outside of paid work that give them joy and satisfaction — and serve others in the bargain.

I’ve been blessed in my life to know several people who have found the way to live their  life’s true calling. Dan, a friend who worked for the local United Way, was such a person. He loved his town, his staff and his volunteers. And his wild enthusiasm was infectious to everyone around him.

Zellie, another friend, had a distinguished career in the human resources field — and clearly loved that work. But he found a new vocation in retirement that enlivened him: building a distinctive kind of house for bluebirds, which are an endangered species. He found his place of deep gladness in teaching others how to do the same.

Passion, zeal, joy and love — the distinctive signs of living our true calling from God.

Last month, I saw these same signs in some people right here in Dalton. As part of the  Leadership Dalton program, I got to spend a morning at Westwood Elementary. There, I saw, firsthand, the work that the teachers are doing in literacy education. Boy, have things changed in the 50 (yikes!) years since I was in the primary grades! Gifted instructors are helping kids learn to read and write, as usual, but the way they do it, and the excitement I saw there — in both teachers and students — was breathtaking.

The kids were amazing — working independently and in small groups, helping each other read and write their own stories, even as early as kindergarten. But what inspired me most was the passion of the teachers. From that kindergarten teacher right up to Angela, the principal, they are all involved in helping kids to read and write with comprehension. Even the smallest move forward in those kids brings cheers and tears to their eyes. They understand that the world’s great need is for people who can read with understanding — folks who can listen deeply, then communicate what they think, feel and know, in return. What a blessing it was to be in the presence of so many who know where their deep gladness is found — and choose to share that calling to meet the world’s great need.

Many of us are searching for new ways of being in these times that are changing so rapidly. Many of us are wondering why we are here and for what need, great or small, God has called us. Where we might look is in the places in our lives where we feel deep joy, and in those activities that charge us up with passion, fill us with love for each other and answer a real need.  There is found a pathway to our true calling, and to the life that God desires for us and for the good of the whole world.

The Rev. Patricia M. Grace is rector of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Dalton.