“Gladness” and “Need”

Subtitle: A Labor Day Weekend Reflection

Labor Day. Since 1882, America’s annual recognition of workers.

I think of Jesus. Not as prophet, teacher, miracle worker, or Messiah, but as a carpenter. Jesus was a laborer. A universal mark of identification with all of us.

And I think of my vocation of ordained ministry to which I have given over 40 years of service.

And I think of Frederick Buechner’s definition of calling as “the place where our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.”[1]

And I ask myself: What’s my gladness and what’s the world’s need I seek to meet?

Reflecting on my life of ministry, I recall a dream…

Fall 1970, I entered college as a political science major. A prelude to law school. Despite the advances of the Civil Rights Era, my experiences of racism, individual and institutional, deepened my angst and heightened my anger.

During my sophomore year, deeply depressed, I struggled between faith and non-belief. I wondered: Where is the omnipotent and benevolent God in whom I believed? I adopted as my mantra the words of one of Archibald MacLeish’s characters: “If God is God, God is not good and if God is good, God is not God.”[2] If an all-powerful God doesn’t end injustice, then God must not be kind and if God is kind, then God must not be powerful enough to end injustice.

As Spirit-breath blowing through the mists of my misery, the Reverend Bill Huntley, the college chaplain, invited me to join him for weekly wide-ranging conversations about absolutely anything. Without judgment, he encouraged me to follow my thoughts to their logical and illogical conclusions. To wrestle to find words to express what I thought and felt. To make outlandish pronouncements about how things ought be. To cry in anguish without shame. To curse without guilt. To pray in my own language, not relying on words from a book.

At semester’s end, Bill asked, “Paul, have you considered ordained ministry?” “Yes,” I replied, “but not seriously.” “Think about it,” he said.

I did, which, two years later, led to my senior year vocational paralysis; uncertain whether to attend law school or seminary. Finally, I made a decision to make no decision. I would complete all the applications and whatever institution gave me the most scholarship money would confirm my life’s path!

Then, the dream: I stood behind myself (an out-of-body experience!) at the edge of a precipice gazing into the horizon blanketed by a cloud from which thundered a voice: “You shall go to seminary.”

I awoke at peace with myself. I reflected on the biblical stories where God speaks through dreams and whose shekinah (presence) appears as a cloud. This counterbalanced my skepticism that I merely might have heard my unconscious self. Believing it to be God’s voice, I tossed the law school applications. The rest, is history.

In the course of my history, I’ve discerned many reasons why I became a priest.

God (even the mere idea of God) inspires me…

And the notion of a connection between creation and transcendent, yet immanent Mystery, which although truly nameless is nonetheless knowable, delights and confounds me…

And I love people…

And I want to be with people in the depths of their pain and at the heights of their joy…

And I love to listen and to talk. What better profession could I have pursued than that of pastor and preacher?

This is my Labor Day story. What’s yours? What’s your gladness and what’s the world’s need you seek to meet?

© 2022 PRA

#vocation #calling #lifeslabor


[1] Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco (1973), page 119. Carl Frederick Buechner (July 11, 1926-August 15, 2022).

[2] J. B.: A Play in Verse, Houghton Mifflin Company (1956), page 11. Archibald MacLeish (May 7, 1892-April 20, 1982)

2 thoughts on ““Gladness” and “Need”

  1. Thank you Paul and Happy Labor Day!! I knew most of that story but still read this several times since you posted it!!

    You know my story too! My dream was to be an FBI agent because I always wanted to solve stuff but my I corrected vision was too bad to qualify!! Using my private detective license at 21 to find my dad so my Mom could get a divorce from him was a highlight and led me to my 40 year security career! I would have been a great FBI agent but have no regrets! I too saw people at their best and worst times! And like you I now have a brand new career!! What a life right?????

    Love!

    Like

  2. “What a life right?????” Right!

    Yes, Loretta, I know your story. And, it occurs to me, that our stories — about how and why we do what we do, which is another way of saying how and why we chose our vocations (and how and why our vocations chose us!) — as we continue to reflect on them and share them with others can take on new meaning for us. New details can emerge for us in our retelling that we hadn’t seen before. Or we can look back and see, in our old (now seeming “ancient”) stories of our being and becoming who and what we are, the seeds of our current pilgrimages…

    As I think about you, your earliest desiring to be an FBI agent to your security career, yes, that appears to bear a clear line of connection. However, I wonder — yes, blessed Doris’ illness was a great impetus in leading you to your “brand new career” — whether there is some progression from your interest in and your drive toward detection to your powerful calling to find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease and all forms of dementia. I think…feel so.

    So, my beloved sister, carry on, I say, carry on!

    Love,
    Paul

    Like

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