It has been over four decades since I first felt a sense of call. I would have been about 4 yrs. old and was starting school for the first time at a tiny Catholic primary. Blazers, knee high socks and even those structured berets with ribbon trim were part of the high uniform standards. In fact, it would be the same primary school that my children would later begin their journey to independence in some 18 years later, but by then the blazers were replaced with hoodies, but sadly the red gingham summer dresses that felt like air (in reality a poly-cotton mix that offered zero comfort or warmth) remained.
I would walk to school with my Mum and older Sister (siblings 3 and 4 would not make an appearance for another 11 or so years) from the very far side of fish town to what is still called cow town. I relished the walk to school (less so on the way home, tired and hungry) as the landscape changed from seascape to country. I had already become familiar with the ways of the sea and the cathartic sound of its moods: wild and ferocious waves or calm lapping tides, to me it was a constant. Predictably present. Always in sight. But there was something different, unknown in the hills. After turning down the Dashpers a narrow path that left the main road, we were finally high enough to see above the houses.
And those hills…
I can still remember how it felt to see them each day. The yearning I had to go and be amongst the green. Not dissimilar to the cartoon hills and fields in the Mr Men books from the 1970’s, they nestled neatly, one on top of the other higher and higher above the town- very topsy turvy style. There was fine fresh leaf green, and luxurious mossy patches, sometimes edges with Devon red soil, like photos in a frame. It was a picture, a scene that I longed to study. By the time we had reached the Dashpers we were inevitably running late (or would be if we dawdled) and if we didn’t get to Polhearne Lane by ten-to, then there would be actual running required! All through my childhood I found it hard to find my voice: shy and lacking in confidence it took me many weeks to express my love of the hills or my dream to go and find that place where the land touched the sky. I felt a sense of calling that I could not articulate, it was beyond the physical desire to explore and go on an adventure. It was as though the very earth itself was calling me to come home, patiently waiting for me to see its beauty, its holiness. We tend to think of ‘calling’ or ‘vocation’ as something internal – welling up from inside, gifted, whole and waiting to be discovered. This one-sided love affair – be it for medicine, art, or ministry – neglects to acknowledge that our calling (for we all have one) is as responsive as it is communal.
Even those called to serve in ways that others may find inexplicable, such as hermits, are indeed responding to and interacting with an external force: Ruach the breath of God. I keep being drawn back to this verse from Psalm 42 (NRSV):
7Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.
Not only does the divine connect to us in our most desperate of times, when we are feeling lost and abandoned and find it hard to feel God’s touch, but the message of ‘deep calls to deep’ is fundamental to our relationship with God and her creation. A heightened sense of call is our spirit’s awakening to the breath of God. I have heard it suggested that this verse in fact relates to a poetic description of water: wave call after wave/ wave follows wave without intermission from the Hebrew tehom (primordial waters). This interpretation also works for me! because the consistency of God’s love is unceasing, free flowing and eternal. There is no intermission to this eternal flow of holiness, inclusion, and relational love. Our deepest fundamental need is met when we firstly accept the call, but we only see the embodiment of that relationship when we enter the flow of community. For the Mystics that flow was found in nature, and perhaps for me too, as a small child dreaming of the hills with the desire to connect. Henry Nouwen (renowned priest and author) speaks of community as: ‘heart calling to heart, solitude greeting solitude and spirit speaking to spirit’1
The breath of God is in us and around us, in everything. From the city to the desert, God’s call can be heard. God is crazy about you – about me – about all of it. At Pentecost, the disciples experienced the breath of God in a powerful way, and it caused them to act. We have the same opportunity today, but sometimes I think we are scared for these encounters because we know in our hearts, we will also feel compelled to act. What will it cost us? What changes will we feel compelled to make?
There is a place beyond words, where the lion and the lamb lie down together and for the briefest of moments as a small child whose Mother did indeed take them to the hills, I believe I found it.
Out Beyond Ideas
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase ‘each other’
doesn’t make any sense.2
May the Spirit of God be awakened in all of us. Amen.
1 ©2017 You are the Beloved Henri J.M. Nouwen by Henry Nouwen Legacy Trust.