Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. —Proverbs 1:20
And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” —Matthew 3:17
Some of the most remarkable features of Luther’s campus are easy to miss if you are always in a hurry to get from one place to the next. There are two stone circles: the older one is just east of Koren; the newer one is in front of Jenson-Noble Hall of Music. These stone circles provide good gathering places for class discussions and groups of friends. The stone circles are also good places for solitude, fostering reflection and contemplation. One unique feature of these circles is that they create an echo. If you stand in the very center of either circle and speak, you will hear your own voice come back to you. Because vocation is about voice and listening, these stone circles offer a rich metaphor for developing our sense of vocation. Discerning our vocation requires a community or circle of trust as well as opportunities for solitude and reflection.
Whether we are listening for wisdom raising her voice in the street or the voice of God calling us beloved daughters and sons, vocation is a process of listening in order to learn who we are and to find our own voice as God’s beloved. The engaging dialogue of faith and learning in the Luther community provides a host venues to for listening and finding one’s voice—daily chapel and community worship; classes, labs, and lectures; performing arts and exhibits; senior recitals, senior art shows, senior chapels; daily conversations at the caf; and Vocation Visitors and other Sense of Vocation programs are all among the possible opportunities. The irony of campus life is that the pace of studies, work, events, meetings, and schedules can often leave precious little time for tending to questions of vocation, something that requires breathing space.
I often find my own schedule so packed with to-do lists, emails, and scheduled meetings events that my capacities for listening and being present suffer for lack of breathing space. This is not a dilemma unique to a campus pastor, as I often hear similar laments from students, faculty, staff, and friends and colleagues off campus. Tending to vocation, making space in our lives to hear God’s voice or even to hear the sound of our own voice is counterintuitive in the midst of a culture where we are defined so much by what we do.
I remember the late ’70s and early ’80s before computers were common in home, school or work settings. We had the utopian idea that technology would save us so much time that we would all move to four-day work weeks and shorter school years. Some even suggested that we would become a culture of leisure and reflection with time on our hands. Quite the opposite has happened. The rule of unintended consequences has played havoc as technology allows us to do more work so that we can pack our days and every waking moment with voice mail, email, text messages, and iPods. My own practices of listening—whether at work, at home, or in prayer—are greatly diminished when I fall into such imbalanced patterns. In the context of a heavily programmed life, some students lament that the opportunities for vocational reflection seem more like another pressure-filled expectation rather than a window for self-discovery or a moment of grace. Vocation Visitor Heidi Neumark, author of Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx, reminded us that a core part of our calling as a community is to tend to breathing space that allows for listening and reflection in our life together as well as in our times of solitude.
One of the remarkable things about the Luther community is that it provides for regular listening opportunities in the midst of the hectic pace of campus life. I love the renewal, energy, spirit, and questions students generate on campus. I also love the opportunities for solitude and grace that the campus and local geography provide. I have often been surprised and reminded of my own calling and identity while sitting in chapel, through conversations on campus, in lectures and performances, when returning a call, or taking a walk. The voice of Wisdom is always out there, raising her voice on the campus, on the street, on the phone, or on a trail. Serving as part of a team of pastors in a place where so many are willing to offer gifts of preaching, arts, leadership, service, teaching, and dialogue to build up a community of faith and learning is a gift. I am often reminded of the gifts in our life together in conversations with alumni who miss the many opportunities for listening and developing one’s voice in life at Luther.
I sometimes refer to various roles or titles when describing my vocation: husband, father, pastor, brother, son, uncle, friend, citizen, gardener, or storyteller. My baptismal identity as a child of God helps me remember my core in the midst of many roles and expectations. The voice that named Jesus as God’s beloved at his baptism also calls to us. If I hope to share in God’s redemptive work, to preach the Good News that we are God’s beloved, to be a faithful family member and friend, or to hear wisdom calling out in the street, then my vocation is also to be a good listener. Vocation is about hearing the voice that calls us and finding our voice. A stone circle is a good place to start.