Lights and calls

No one after lighting a lamp hides it under a jar, or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a lampstand, so that those who enter may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light. Then pay attention to how you listen; for to those who have, more will be given; and from those who do not have, even what they seem to have will be taken away.’

Then his mother and his brothers came to him, but they could not reach him because of the crowd. And he was told, ‘Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.’ But he said to them, ‘My mother and my brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it.’– Luke 8:16-21 (NRSV)

One thing about Jesus, he never seemed to give a simple “yea, nay” answer to anything of any substance. Oh, I’m sure he must have at some point, but those who wrote his stories, lessons and sayings down didn’t go for the easy stuff. The two segments in the gospel for today are perfect examples.

I was drawn to the story of the lamp under a jar (or, as I learned it as a child, a “light under a bushel basket” of the KJV). The NRSV version seems a bit awkward to me. Who would light a lamp (or a candle) and then put it under a bed? That’s a certain way to make sure the light is seen a distance away because it would catch bed, bedroom and probably whole house on fire. I see what Jesus is getting at, but it still seems a bit of a stretch.

Everybody has a “light” of some sort. We are all born with gifts and talents that we are encouraged to develop — the better ones, anyway. I am sure there are those with a talent for pickpocketing or the like which is socially and legally frowned upon, but I think I should stick to the ones more in line with today’s teaching.

In the religious world, a “light” is sometimes considered a call, a message or a tugging from God pulling someone in a direction of service in some area. It used to be one got a “call” to do something in a church like being a priest, deacon, minister, preacher or pastor. Now the idea of call has expanded to be much more, and in many more ways and places. One of the most-used explanations of what a call (or, using another word, vocation) is was first expressed by Frederick Buechner, “…the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” It might be hard to imagine that Michelangelo had a vocation, or Thomas Tallis, even Salvador Dali, but something in their work brought the passion for creating works of beauty in contact with the needs of a world that was hungry for it. Mother Teresa certainly had a calling, but so have many others whose names we don’t know. Each had a light, sometimes more than one of them, and each let that light shine because they could no more hide it and become lawyers or clerks or shopkeepers than they could fly.

Joan Chittister wrote that a some see a call as meant as an”…invitation to become what we were meant to be” or “…an answer to the beckoning of God who gave us a gift so that we ourselves could give it away to those who need it” (Chittister, Ch. 10, ¶ 21). She also speaks of having different calls for different times of life as witnessed by many who leave lucrative positions, jobs and practices to work with immigrants, victims of war and disaster, or children at risk. One person of my acquaintance was, as she called herself, a “bean-counter” when she felt a call to a different life. She is now a priest in charge of a growing church plant that clearly values her talent in the financial area of management as well as her energy, drive and passion for the gospel and ability to convey that through her preaching and working with the groups in her church. Sometimes a light or a call comes immediately, sometimes it grows over time, and sometimes it seems to morph into a totally different one, but in any case, it is the result of joy, passion, desire, urgency and talent meeting a need, whether in the church, in the world, or with a foot in both camps.

Jesus didn’t hesitate to put his family on notice that their concern about his vocation was misplaced. He knew his calling and he had to do it, regardless of how they felt or what they thought. Sometimes a person with a true calling has to do that, like St. Francis of Assisi, but when a call is clear and strong, when the passion for doing something that makes the world a better place is allowed to grow, the world benefits and so does the doer.

I wonder — where does my light shine, and where does my deep gladness meet the world’s need? It feels sometimes like discerning a call is harder than actually living one, but it is all part of a process. I have a lot of examples to look to for inspiration.

Somehow the old gospel song is ringing in my ears: “This little light of mine/ I’m gonna let it shine.” I’m definitely not going to put it under the bed to burn the house down.

* Chittister, Joan, Following the Faith: The Search for a Life of Passion, Purpose, and Joy. (2012, Kindle ed.) New York: Image.

Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter

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