Barbara Brown Taylor, an Episcopal priest, tells this story in her beautiful book, An Altar in the World. At one time she used to meet regularly with other Church ministers of various religious denominations. She describes a Baptist minister who was exceptionally busy. Besides preaching three sermons a week, he had to keep his medium-sized church going. When he was in his office, he was bombarded by people asking to see him. Taylor writes, “What saved this guy, as far as I could tell, was the clown outfit in his closet.” On his day off, he would don his clown outfit—complete with orange wig—and make people laugh in nursing homes, hospitals, and charity benefits.
One day as the Baptist minister was describing his latest clown gig, the Presbyterian minister interrupted saying, “I just figured out what I was missing… All of you do something else besides church.” Says Taylor, “He was absolutely right. The Methodist was a volunteer fireman. The Catholic taught Italian at a community college. I wrote books.” She concludes, beside their main ministry, they all had found something else they could do—and liked to do. My question for you today is: “What do you do besides what you do?” In other words, besides your main work in life, your vocation or avocation, what else do you do?”
I was thinking of some of the Sisters I live(d) with. Sister J. is an administrator at a high school, but she also loves to bake. Recently she made four apple pies for a meeting she was a part of. (Lucky attendees!) Sister D., a primary teacher, now directs our bell choir in addition to making the best jam in the world—especially strawberry! Sister R., also a primary teacher, adds beauty to our living space by creating lovely bulletin boards in our halls for every season. Sister MS, a high school English teacher, plays the flute for our special Masses and is an excellent photographer. Sister R., who taught high school religion and science, now mentors incarcerated teenage girls and also serves in the clowning ministry. Sister B., who has worked for years in finance offices in schools and in our congregational offices, also gives presentations on human trafficking. And then there was Sister K., who served in India for 40 years. In her final years as a resident in our health care center she tended an herb garden.
Here are a few other examples of people I know who do other things besides what they do: My Dad, a tool and die maker, was also an avid mushroom hunter and a lover of classical music. My brother John, owner of a welding and fabricating business, engaged in competitive trap shooting and also flew a biplane on weekends. I once knew a priest, the head of a religious congregation, who tinkered with the community cars on his day off. Then there’s an award winning writer who babysits her grandchildren regularly… and Sister J. the finance person at an elementary school who repairs old religious statues, giving them new life… and the computer professional who makes his own beer.
I’m suggesting that we think of our vocation within a larger context. The word vocation comes from the Latin vocare which means “to call.” As Christians, our fundamental call is to love God and our neighbor as ourselves. Taylor adds this thought: No matter what we consider our vocation to be (marriage, the single life, the consecrated life… father/mother, teacher, businessperson, lawyer, homemaker, IT professional, farmer, truck driver, clerk, cook, nurse, pastoral minister) we all have “the vocation of becoming fully human.“ She defines “fully human” as “learning to turn my gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good.” I like that! I also think turning our gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good is an excellent “practice” for Lent!
Here’s what those “Lenten practices” might look like for us: Meeting or zooming with a friend for lunch… learning to do something new—like play a musical instrument (I just heard about a 66-year-old grandfather who’s learning to play the accordion to pass on his Polish heritage to his grandchildren)… volunteering at the parish fish fry… listening to some good podcasts like Bishop Robert Barron’s “Word on Fire” or Krista Tippet’s “On Being”… watching just about any program on PBS—nature, science, history, the arts… playing games with friends or family… educating ourselves on a vital issue of our times.
What activities do you do to balance your main work?
Do they help you to do your “main work” in a more healthy and loving way?
How might you turn your “gratitude for being alive into some concrete common good” this Lent?
PS: On Ash Wednesday I was part of a Lenten retreat day at the Sisters of Notre Dame center in Covington, KY. I was surprised and edified that over 130 people came to this retreat day from 9:00 to 2:00. The day consisted of talks, prayer, reflection time, Mass, lunch, and time for confessions. I want to thank Sister Dennise for inviting me. I also want to thank all the workers who made the day run smoothly—plus all beautiful individuals who came!
Once again I offer you two videos…
The first is a powerful new song by Joy Zimmerman, a talented young woman from Kansas. It’s called “We’ll Hold the Light for You.” It’s Joy’s tribute to first responders of all kinds: EMT personnel, health care workers, police officers, fire fighters. The second is a prayer for world peace. One of my favorite hymns, “This Is My Song,” it is based on Sibelius’ “Finlandia.”
Joy Zimmerman’s “We’ll Hold the Light for You”… as we thank all first responders for their dedication to all of us….
Let us pray the words of “This Is My Song” especially for our brothers and sisters in Ukraine… The lovely photos here are from countries all over the world. See the lower right hand corner of each photo…
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