I've been reading around this summer -- poetry, especially Mary Oliver, and some good writing about vocation and discernment by Sam Portaro and Sharon Daloz Parks. A theme that bubbles up through this reading is the idea of "co-creation" as a way of thinking about our call to faithfulness and discipleship. Portaro, in his new book called Transforming Vocation, uses the first chapter of Genesis, in which God creates the world and calls it "good" - and the making of the world seems to be an expression of who/what God is -- as a beginning for a theology of vocation. What we experience as intimations of the divine, whether subtle or overwhelming, at various times of life, are actually invitations to participate in God's ongoing creation: we "co-create" our lives, paying attention to who we are, what seems unique about each of us as individuals, and what draws us to care and desire to be part of something, to find and to create meaning in our lives and in our communities?
Phyllis Tickle entitles her recent memoir The Shaping of a Life. I like her title because it names the vocational task as a creative activty. My theology of vocation says that we are never doing that shaping alone - we are shaping and consenting to be shaped: that means being attentive to who we are, who we are related to, what challenges us, what kind of work feeds and delights us, what kind of brokenness we feel most deeply in the world. And all of this brought back to the One who made us and who mysteriously desires that we should grow into fulness (I keep returning to a saying of Irenaus of Antioch that I've seen translated "The glory of God is the human being fully alive." )In Latin it's "Gloria dei vivens homo.")
Fully alive: One of the things I've always liked about the academic schedule is that I get these these wonderful open summers, when there's lots of writing to be done but also contemplative time, time to grow and "be alive." When I sit on my patio, I write in my journal, but I also listen to the birdsong and look at what's around me - and at other times of the day, I spend time gardening. Here is an activity that's REALLY about co-creation. I'm an inexpert gardener, figuring it out as I go along, but it is a new and wonderful experience to me to find that small tasks I perform -- pulling out weeds, watering, or, yesterday, giving a big dose of "compost tea" -- made from our own yard trimmings and kitchen scraps -- to the tomato plants -- leads to new growth. Without analyzing it all intellectually, I find I learn about gardening by getting to know my plants, their preferences for sun and shade, and when they bloom or bear fruit, there is a sense of miracle about it -- I've put in some work, but what comes back is God's creation. I see that it's no accident that spiritual writers have often recommended gardening as a contemplative practice. That's what it's becoming for me.
And since especially during the academic year I'm in the business of "formation" -- teaching, spiritual direction, reflecting and teaching about vocation, I'm paying attention to the give-and-take involved in gardening: a lot of it is looking/listening/paying attention to what's needed, then doing a small thing to feed or direct new growth. But it's God who gives the growth. The real formation that is going on right now is happening in me, as I learn this in a more direct, intuitive way than I can express in words.
- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.