Who Am I?

Vocation

Who Am I?
Monday, May 28, 2018

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. —Dr. Howard Thurman (1899-1981), theologian and civil rights leader [1]

As conscious human beings, our life purpose is to be a visible expression of both the image and the likeness of God. Each of us reveals a unique facet of the divine, what Franciscan John Duns Scotus called haecceity or thisness. [2] Parker Palmer says it well in his book Let Your Life Speak:

[My newborn granddaughter] did not show up as raw material to be shaped into whatever image the world might want her to take. She arrived with her own gifted form, with the shape of her own sacred soul. . . . Thomas Merton calls it true self. Quakers call it the inner light, or “that of God” in every person. The humanist tradition calls it identity and integrity. No matter what you call it, it is a pearl of great price. . . .

The deepest vocational question is not “What ought I to do with my life?” It is the more elemental and demanding “Who am I? What is my nature?” . . . [I believe we’ve got to get our own who right before we can begin to address the question of what am I to do.]

Our deepest calling is to grow into our own authentic selfhood, whether or not it conforms to some image of who we ought to be. As we do so, we will not only find the joy that every human being seeks—we will also find our path of authentic service in the world. True vocation joins self and service, as Frederick Buechner asserts when he defines vocation as “the place where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” [3] . . .

Contrary to the conventions of our thinly moralistic culture, this emphasis on gladness and selfhood is not selfish. The Quaker teacher Douglas Steere was fond of saying that the ancient human question “Who am I?” leads inevitably to the equally important question “Whose am I”—for there is no selfhood outside of relationship. . . .

As I learn more about the seed of true self that was planted when I was born, I also learn more about the ecosystem in which I was planted—the network of communal relations in which I am called to live responsively, accountably, and joyfully with beings of every sort. Only when I know both seed and system, self and community, can I embody the great commandment to love both my neighbor and myself. . . .

The world still waits for the truth that will set us free—my truth, your truth, our truth—the truth that was seeded in the earth when each of us arrived here formed in the image of God. Cultivating that truth, I believe, is the authentic vocation of every human being. [4]

References:
[1] Howard Thurman, occasion unidentified. This often-used quotation is attributed to Reverend Thurman on the history page of the Howard Thurman Center for Common Ground at Boston University, https://www.bu.edu/thurman/about/history/.

[2] See Richard Rohr’s previous meditations on “Thisness,” https://cac.org/thisness-weekly-summary-2018-03-24/.

[3] Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC (HarperSanFrancisco: 1993), 119.

[4] Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation (Jossey-Bass: 2000), 11, 15,16-17, 36.

Image credit: Automat (detail), 1927, Edward Hopper, Des Moines Art Center, Des Moines, Iowa.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image:
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
to learn
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
—David Whyte

The work of the Center for Action and Contemplation is possible only because of friends and supporters like you!

Learn more about making a donation to the CAC.

FacebookTwitterEmailPrint