St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“A Ray of Darkness” by Rowan Williams
Chapters 30 and 31
“Vocation (1)” and “Vocation (2)”
Sunday, October 13, 2002
This is the fifth and last in a series of five informal discussions led by Rev. Mike Kreutzer, which will attempt to analyze and more thoroughly understand the book of sermons and reflections entitled A Ray of Darkness written by the Right Rev. Rowan Williams. Bishop Williams, who is of Welsh origin, has been elected to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury. He has served as Professor of Theology at both Cambridge and Oxford Universities.
The group discussion began by noting that a vocation or calling can be quite a dramatic event. This has also been reflected by various Biblical prophets. For example, the Apostle Paul on the road to Damascus noted “the Lord called me before I was born.” Be who you are and use all your gifts from God to the fullest. The question was then raised as to those people born to have a proclivity towards evil deeds such as theft, murder, etc. Should they use their “talents” to the fullest (i.e. should one murder as many people as possible)? The question was then asked does this calling apply to only those who are willing to serve God, or does it generally apply to everyone, either good or evil?
It may be suggested that anyone with special gifts or talents has been called by God. However, one need not respond to the calling in that their talents may be wasted and not utilized. Others claim they do not find their talents. Parents can have a large influence on their children’s behavior. It was noted that George Lamsa, the translator of the Lamsa Bible spent nearly his entire life translating the Bible because his mother instilled in him that it was his duty to do this! (The Lamsa Bible translation is based on Peshitta manuscripts, which have comprised the accepted Bible of all those Christians who have used Syriac as their language of prayer and worship for many centuries. The Church of the East and some noted Western scholars dispute the belief of modern scholarship that the originals of the Four Gospels and other parts of the New Testament were written in Greek. In any case, Aramaic speech is an underlying factor and New Testament writers drew on documents written in Aramaic. Syriac is the literary dialect of Aramaic. From the Mediterranean east into India, the Peshitta is still the Bible of preference among Christians. George M. Lamsa, the translator, devoted the major part of his life to this work. He was an Assyrian and a native of ancient Bible lands. He and his people retained Biblical customs and Semitic culture, which had perished elsewhere. With this background and his knowledge of the Aramaic (Syriac) language, it is surmised that he has recovered much of the meaning that has been lost in other translations of the Scriptures.)
The sense of calling can sometimes be frightening! “Here I am Lord, send me!” Do we really perceive God’s ways and what they are? Some Christians feel guilty about being happy with their lives because they feel they should not allow themselves to feel content in that they should always be striving to be better in God’s eyes. Persistence and a good work ethic can create personal wealth, but Christians should not aspire to earthly wealth, rather give it back to the truly needy. There are many, particularly young people, who are afraid to make a commitment of any kind. Some people who are middle aged still do not know what they want to do with their lives. They are afraid of choosing the wrong career. People can be happy and productive in more than one area and therefore should not fret too much about choosing the wrong career. Sometimes parents push their children into a career they don’t actually want. For example, a child who loves music may be pushed by the parent into a field which could offer them more income and a higher standard of living even though they may be miserable doing the other job. Even if it is realized later in life that the wrong choice was made, sometimes it is too late financially or physically to change careers. It was noted that there seem to be a lot of part time musicians who end up in the field of computer science or mathematics. Young people need to consider a profession in which they will be happy and not always focus on the financial aspect of things. It is very unpleasant to wake up every day for thirty years and hate your job! This can work on the other end as well where people are nearing retirement age and continue to hang onto their jobs as if trading money for time.
We of course must provide for our daily needs first. It is only when a person gets beyond that level can they start thinking about all of the other options open to them. This boils down to prioritization. How much time and energy do we spend with our family and friends and how much do we spend earning money? Being called to our vocation is part of our ongoing quest to find meaning in our lives. Even if we enter into a calling that does not necessarily mean that a person cannot be involved in other areas. Some people, however, become so obsessed that they end p excluding others from their lives due to their personal commitments. Is being called analogous to being “born again? Sometimes there is that moment when you just “get it,” an epiphany! When a lady cleric who worked at Westminster Abbey in England was asked how do you know you’ve been called she replied, “He never stops calling me!” The message can come to different people in many different ways. Another example was a man in a local neighborhood who had spent his entire career working in private industry decided one day that his calling in life was to be a public school teacher. So he quit his job, and became a school teacher! People can and do change as they grow older. There are others who perhaps are called but don’t really recognize it, but just do the thing they were called to do!
An important idea to consider is that others help you gain your identity. A person may have a greater perspective on life when the surrounding community helps you see things more clearly. Some people are looking to be called while others proclaim they have no talents. Passages from the Old Testament remind us that even those who feel they have lost their meaning in life still contribute to society. Famous American composer Aaron Copeland was an advocate of the common man who he noted did some very important things in or lives. It is also no guarantee that a person who is famous is necessarily happy. Many time families of a well-known person will suffer since there is not enough time for them in his or her busy life. It was then noted that studies done on the world’s one hundred most influential leaders revealed that most of them were tyrants!
During our stewardship campaign we are asked to write down what our gifts and talents are and note how we are trying to develop them. Many younger people in their teens have significant difficulties in trying to figure out what they really want to do with their lives. Some of us have several careers which we would like to pursue simultaneously (if only there were enough time)!
This brought to a close the informal discussion session on Rowan Williams’ book, A Ray of Darkness. Perhaps next spring we will be able to read and discuss some of the other chapters.