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Spiritual Smart Aleck

About twenty-four years ago I was enrolled in an Episcopal course given by the Diocese of Olympia called Formation for Ministry. It was meant to equip lay people to live out their call.

What is a call?

Your call is the inward pull toward living out your most authentic self in your most authentic life. In the classes I took we were focusing on what God was calling us to be and do.

If you are uncomfortable with the G-word, go back and read the first sentence of that last paragraph. For the purposes of today’s discussion, that is my definition of call.

Almost everyone in that diocesan class was exploring some sort of call to ordination. Many were certain they were called to priesthood, or the diaconate. I was thinking I might be called to the diaconate.

Then I found out that when you are ordained to holy orders, the emphasis is on “orders.” As in: you take orders from those above you in the church. Learning that was one of those “Uh oh,” moments for me.

If spirituality is a gift like any other gift I did not get the “humble obedience to my superiors” part of it, but I did get the “I don’t feel inferior to these bozos” gift. I can respect people on an individual basis, but I knew I could not be obedient to someone simply because I was outranked.

So after I realized that I probably was not called to be a humble cog in the mighty machinery that is the institutional church, I figured I was called to do the best job I could living the life I already had.

I have always believed that the example you live attracts more converts than sermons, same as the way you live teaches your children more than what you tell them. Unfortunately, my example often pisses people off. Oh well. I’m doing the best I can here, all right?

In one of the theology classes we were given the assignment of writing an autobiography, and then presenting it to the class. Most people in the class were, like me, in the middle of life, and hearing our stories about how and why we had come to be enrolled in this class was pretty interesting.

There was a woman in the class who was in her seventies. She had worked as a nurse. Her husband had been an alcoholic.  “It was very hard, but that was all years ago,” she said, with a dismissive wave of her hand. She said she felt called to the diaconate because she wanted to be of help to people.

She was amazing to me because she had obviously lived a long and sometimes tumultuous life, and had seen many sad things in her work as a nurse, but she elaborated less about her life than those of us who had lived much shorter and perhaps not so helpful or traumatic lives.

At the time I was pretty sure I had suffered more than anyone, ever, in the world, and wanted everyone to know it and feel sorry for me, or admire me for being such a gosh darn courageous gal overcoming all that adversity. When I told my life story, I went on and on, talking about my hard times and how I suffered. Then this seventy-something woman summed up her life, which obviously included some hard times, in about five minutes. It was humbling. The irony to me was that a longer life made a shorter story.

I thought about that class and that woman lately, because I am finding that the longer my life is, the shorter the telling of it is. I realize now that everyone has suffered, and there’s no comparing one person’s suffering with another. Whatever bad has happened to you, it has been bad enough. You know what it feels like to hurt and because you do you can feel compassion for other people who hurt.

These days my calling includes being a steady grandmother to my grandchild, hanging around with good friends, and singing, and writing. There is also an awful lot of laundry and dirty dish washing to do. Not exactly inspiring chores, but someone’s gotta do them.

Right now all those activities seem like plenty enough to make a full life. I have been through some hard times, but so have we all, brothers and sisters, so have we all. May you have a long life and a short interesting story to tell.