The conversational imperative

Daily Reading for June 29 • St. Peter and St. Paul, Apostles

Our understandings of vocation as individual and corporate response to and expression of relationship with the living God move beyond a matter of compulsive obedience to superior order or an acquiescence to preordained determinism. As in any creative partnership, communication is central to the relationship, and it is vital to vocation and discernment. Commitment to mutuality in relationship entails commitment to a conversational imperative, a free, open disclosure of self to the other, without which intimacy cannot be sustained.

This conversational imperative is in lively evidence in the stories and lives of Moses and the prophets, of Jesus and Paul. In theirs and countless stories related in the scriptures, in Hebrew midrash and Christian patristic writing, in the witnesses of saints, in sermons and songs ancient and modern we experience this lively, living conversation among partners intimately caught up in and bound to committed relationship. . . .

Jesus was at pains to insist that he neither wanted nor had followers, but friends. “I have called you friends,” he explains to his disciples, “because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (John 15:15). Those who sought to learn from him would not copy his attitudes and behaviors, but would undertake the more difficult business of plumbing their own depths, exploring and embracing their own selves, and shouldering full responsibility for their very being. Or, as he famously expressed it, they would take up their own cross—a cross that was distinct from his.

This learning process, this discipleship, is dynamic and subject to constant variation, consistent with any relationship between and among living beings. . . . The process of daily, constant learning about self and one’s world is a demanding discipleship and the central activity of discernment. Understood this way, we see that any so-called discipleship that obscures or escapes such learning is not worthy of the name; it is just evasion, denial, busyness, and distraction, and ultimately, destructive dishonesty. True discipleship not only dirties the hands, it breaks the heart, opens the mind, and stretches the nerves, as all good learning does. Yet, paradoxically, it is this very dangerous conversation that constitutes the core of discipleship and the intimate heart of relationship with God.

From Transforming Vocation by Sam Portaro, a volume in the series Transformations: The Episcopal Church of the 21st Century, edited by James Lemler. Copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY.

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