Mist rising over the prairie at Holy Wisdom Monastery

The evolution of vocation

Rosy Kandathil, OSB Letters home, Living in Community 8 Comments

Mist rising over the prairie at Holy Wisdom Monastery

James [not his real name] and I stood outside talking in low voices. The autumn air was cool, but our discussion was getting heated. We had just come out of a packed lecture hall where 3 speakers offered their thoughts on Calling in Today’s World: Multi-faith Perspectives.

The diverse panel included Amy Eilberg, the first woman ordained a rabbi in Judaism’s Conservative Movement, and a teacher of inter-religious and intra-Jewish dialogue; Anantanand Rambachan, professor of religion, philosophy and Asian studies at St. Olaf College and a specialist in Hindu tradition and interreligious dialogue; and, Mark Unno, associate professor and religious studies advisor at the University of Oregon, a practitioner and teacher of Buddhism. Although there were parallels in the Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist traditions, I was surprised to learn from these interreligious scholars just how unique a sense of personal calling and guidance were to the Christian tradition.

James, a fellow theology graduate student, and I had only recently shared our own calling stories with each other. As we walked out of the lecture hall, I asked for his thoughts. He looked frustrated. “I wish folks would talk honestly about what happens when a calling ends. What happens when a decision that you discerned deeply about, wrestled with, fought over, prayed through—changes or ends completely? Do we just chalk that up to a mistake, a failure to hear one’s true calling? How does anyone keep listening?”

The question came from his own life, but it could just as easily have come from mine too. James had been a monastic seminarian but after extensive soul-searching, he had left his community and was now on a more independent path toward a PhD. His calling had shifted.

I had to admit, so had mine over the years. I was once a vocationally fulfilled lawyer, a public defender in New York. I had been doing “God’s work” with the poor and marginalized for years. And yet, after a year-long sabbatical, I discerned the end of the legal work which had formed me and which I’d come to love. When I came to Holy Wisdom Monastery, I sensed a different calling, a different possibility for my life and new way of living out a profession.

Was the whole law-thing a mistake then?  Had I heard wrong? Would this monastic calling last, or would it too yield in time and change?

It occurred to me that James was right. We don’t often talk honestly about the complexity of calling. The picture of vocation (particularly in Christian circles) can look uni-directional. But it’s rarely a direct trajectory for most people. Perhaps it would help if we talked more openly about the evolution of a vocation. There are often twists and turns, but each bend in the track also contributes to who we become, how we love, the risks we’re willing to take.

One has only to think of one’s own romantic history to know that despite a sense of deep calling and mutual love, sometimes a very significant relationship ends. We discern a different path; we’re forced to move on. One’s sense of calling in the world can and does shift in response to the circumstances of our lives and the opportunities available to us.

Perhaps it would help if we acknowledged the pain and disorientation that often accompanies the pursuit of a calling. It isn’t always choirs of angels and rose petals, sometimes it includes accepting the past (with all its trial and supposed error) in order to open up to the quiet possibility of something new and fulfilling.


Read other blog posts from Sister Rosy in her series, Letters home.

Comments 8

    1. Thanks, Christine — I’d love to talk more about your experience of calling, and how that’s unfolded/unfolding in your life.

  1. Beautiful words, Rosy. I have been struggling lately to put into words what you wrote here so eloquently. I live in Missouri, but hope to one day make it up to the monastery. Would love to chat with you some day!


  2. Rosy, Gratitude to you for your thoughtful reflections on the experience of living faithfully within the many phases of discovery as we “struggle/search” to understand our “call/invitation” by the Divine to become a more aware “piece” of the unfolding/blossoming of the Divine in our incarnating world. At 69 (Happy Birthday by the way, I’ve long since lived passed my 40th) I was just this morning reflecting on how I am still learning a “vocation” is so far away from a specific, one size fits all, choice/decision to live out a particular life commitment. This is so healing/encouraging for me, I begin to appreciate a deep sense of peace. Could that peace possibly be why PAX is one of the bedrock, cornerstones or keystones of Benedictine Monasticism? Could this also be a factor in the beautiful monastic vow “conversion of life” which, in the wisdom of the monastic mothers and fathers of today and of ages past, lovingly grounds us in the FACT that our lives of commitment/dedication are in constant motion. We are continually converting. I now believe that being aligned with the Divine Dance allows us to savor the mysterious and wonderful evolutionary nature of all that is eternally involved with our becoming the vocation we are. Once I stop trying to put this dynamically flowing experience into neat categories or periods like “inkling” “call” “vocation” “discernment” “acceptance” “commitment” (As if this process could ever be deemed: “Oh, goody, now I’m done with this phase, so I can move onto the next one.”) I gently, tentatively can begin, as I always must, to have fun on this rolicing ride. So, my dear monastic friend, have fun on your ride. Holy Wisdom Monastery is the absolutely best community for you to be able to ride the bumps and fly like the wind knowing that you are enfolded in a blessed place that has needed to be exactly where it is for centuries. Dennis

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