EVERYONE IS CALLED. We are called into life. We are called into learning. We are called into loving. We are called into doing. We are called into helping. We are called into reconciling. We are called into journeying. We are called by the outward. We are called by the inward. We are called by the flesh. We are called by the spirit. We are called into creating. We are called beyond our limits. We are called into transcendence. And, finally we are called into death. Calling and being called seems essential to our vocation as human beings. It is part of our instinct for evolution. The lure of becoming sounds in the back of our minds, in the beat of our heart, in the flow of our blood all the time. So is it any wonder that so often we seek the call, and yearn for a clarity that often eludes us. What is my purpose in being? What special task am I here to do? How do I respond to the Lure of Becoming and keep up sufficient energy, passion, momentum, delight, engagement, fascination, that I agree to be lured and constantly lured?
Jean Houston’s insight sums up the premise and precondition for Process philosophies like Alfred North Whitehead’s and Process theologies like Charles Hartshorne’s and John B. Cobb’s. These thinkers adopt the ancient framework of Buddhism and of the pre-Socratic Heraclitus: there is no Being, only Becoming. Even the motion of a falling leaf or a rock shaken by an earthquake are fulfillments of potential, though insignificant (or is some PC nut going to accuse me of insensitivity toward stones?). Whenever lower-order animals obey their instinct without having to think about it, they are very definitely fulfilling their potential as evolution programmed them to do. They are obeying their genes. And that is what you and I, fellow human, are programmed to do as well. Only we do not rely solely upon the hard-wiring of instinct, as surprisingly powerful as it still is in so many aspects of our lives. We have (or at least seem to have) a modicum of freedom of choice. At least enough for us to feel guilty when we make the wrong choice knowing we should have (thus could have) made the right one. In any case, we are called, just as the eminent psychologist says. We feel summoned. That is, we experience the existential position of having been summoned to some task, some duty.
Here I cannot help thinking of a pair of Martin Heidegger’s ideas. First, he spoke of the condition of “thrownness” in which we find ourselves. As soon as we attain self-awareness, it is as if a baseball hurtling toward its target suddenly opened its eyes and beheld for the first time. Imagine him asking: “Who am I? How did I get here? Where am I going—because I’m obviously headed somewhere, and pretty fast!” We didn’t choose our trajectory, our destination. The analogy falls short, though, since we can do what the baseball cannot, namely change course. But we did not choose the original course. Genetics and circumstances did that. We had no control over these factors and cannot go back to undo their work. This will be so even in a future in which parents can select the genetic profile of their offspring. Once we realize who and what and where we are, it will be too late to start over. But we can try to make mid-course corrections. On what basis? How to determine a better course?
Heidegger also spoke of “the Call,” an inner voice ever seeking to remind us of the “authentic existence” we could be living. Very likely we are not already living it because we have simply acquiesced to the marching orders that our parents and society have assigned us. What Jacques Lacan called “the Law of the Father.” We may consider the matter and decide we are happily on the right path. But we will be pestered by the Call if we do not, if we keep going heedlessly. The Call makes itself known as a certain lack of satisfaction and as a sense that we are failing to be what we could be. We are missing out. We must therefore reckon with the small number of days allotted us and decide how to make the best we can of them. Then, even if in the eyes of others, we fail, we will know we have heeded the Call and can be satisfied.
Whence this Call? There are three sources that occur to me. The first is what Aristotle called the entelechy, the inborn drive to develop one’s potential. This varies according to the individual. I must reflect and discern what I can do, and a clue to that is the awareness of what I love to do. Genetics, early influences, who knows what, may have set this inner automatic pilot, but freedom lies in “getting with the program” because no other way leads to fulfillment. If I have a talent for art, I am not going to be happy neglecting it and going into “plastics.” If I have a keen sense for business, or music, or athletics, I will live a life of frustration apart from these things. Granted, one may have too may talents to follow up all of them, but for Pete’s sake, pick one!
Everybody has different talents, and that is pretty handy, since “it takes all kinds.” Ever wondered how anyone can be motivated to become a mortician? In junior high, we always heard intercom announcements about the various clubs meeting each day after classes: Future Physicians Club, Future Teachers Club. My buddy Richard Abate used to speculate why we never heard of any Future Morticians Club. Why indeed? Yet a few of those kids are indeed future morticians. Someone’s gotta do it, and it is pretty convenient that somehow someone wants to. And this is the second source of the Call: society. You live in it. You receive its benefits. You owe it. You heed its summons. It’s like showing up for jury duty. Martin Luther spoke of the Doctrine of Vocation: it’s not just preachers whom God calls. He calls people to be barbers, street sweepers, executioners, confectioners, sign-painters, opera singers. We need ‘em all. And, don’t worry, it’s not arbitrary. It’s not like heeding a draft notice. You’ll want to do it. And society in general has a need for people like you, with your gifts. Of course I know this is not always the way it happens. Economic conditions may dictate you take any job to heed another call, like feeding your family.
And that’s the third source of the Call: the situation. There may be emergency situations. I mean, we all have the obligation to (i.e., are called to) tell the truth so that the web of communication does not fray and snap apart, and that’s an everyday obligation. But suppose war comes, and every one who is able-bodied is called upon to stand and fight for liberty. Or, if that sounds jingoistic to you (which I hope it doesn’t), time comes to stand and fight for our children’s future in a free land. Yeah, you had other things on your list, things you’d rather do, valuable things, but the situation kind of pre-empts them, doesn’t it? Suppose you stumbled upon evidence of malfeasance and fraud in the company you work for. You would have preferred to just move along to more responsibility and greater rewards from the company, but all this will be endangered if you blow the whistle. But if you don’t, you’ll be an accomplice. But that’s too bad. The situation has called you, and you must respond. Doing something might at least in the short run frustrate the preferred use of your talents, but not doing anything is going to destroy your integrity. The latter Call takes priority over the former one.
I’ve mentioned, just barely, the tricky issue of free will. If you have a destiny, at least a direction, marked out by your basic make-up, your entelechy, does that obviate your freedom? Are you stuck with it? No, that’s not the idea. Your destiny is indicated by what you can do and therefore like to do. It is freedom, as Leibniz said, to embrace the law of your own being. And, as Paul Tillich said, there is a dialectic between freedom and destiny. The path is indicated before you. Your destiny calls. But there is no coercion. To go the way that lies before you, you must freely choose it, or it will not happen. You can shirk your destiny, though I doubt you’d wind up very satisfied with the result. That has always bothered me about Richard Bach’s book Illusions: the protagonist (if you can call him that, and that’s just the problem) is offered, called, to be the Messiah, but he turns it down. And that’s what we’re to admire him for. The heroism of slacking! A true hero for the Seventies. I prefer the lesson of Nikos Kazantzakis in The Last Temptation of Christ, which is not really about Christology but about the challenges of human greatness. Will we shirk our “cross” for the easy way? The way so fully enjoyed by those whose apparent destiny and entelechy are to imitate a bed of oysters on the watery bottom? It’s okay if you’re an oyster. But not if you have a higher Calling. And you probably do.
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