November 27, 2008

The Individualized Nature of God's Callings.

Late in the summer of 1967 my family and I happened upon a place, not far from where we lived in Southcentral Alaska, that became one of our favorite camping spots. It was just outside the town of Seward, in a region that had been devastated by the Good Friday earthquake three years earlier. In fact, the area’s most obvious feature was a waterfall that had first appeared suddenly in 1964, after the earthquake moved a small creek miles from its former location.

Today the creek tumbles thirty feet off a near-vertical bluff into the ocean, but at one time it meandered through town and opened its mouth wide to the bay. Like most Alaskan rivers, it was full of salmon on their way to fulfill one of nature’s most remarkable callings. Salmon, of course, spend most of their lives in the ocean, but return to the shallow freshwater streams of their birth to spawn and die.

So that first summer, as we camped beside the tumbling water, salmon born before the earthquake were returning to an altered version of their birthplace. We watched with interest that soon turned to shock, because the fish came leaping out of the surf—trying with all their might to reach the top of the bluff—but they only landed upon rocks and were washed back into the sea. Unable to resist their procreative instinct, they continued to brave the distance, until their broken bodies littered the shore and became food to seals, eagles, and gulls.

I tell you this, because the memory has been a reminder to me of how at times I’ve felt akin to those salmon: like a fish out of water, yearning for home. If you understand the feeling, then you’ll know I’m not referring to home as a physical location but a condition of the heart. It’s that object of great longing the poet, John Haines, calls “a sense of place.”

We all have this sense, I’m sure of it. If it weren’t so, we would spend far less time trying to articulate the notion. Much of the world’s great literature—from the Odyssey to Green Eggs and Ham—describes, in some way, the journey the brave among us take in search of a better place.

Plato called this sense our daemon and a life spent yielding to its quiet influence eudaemonism. To the Romans it was our genius, and to Christians in the Middle Ages it was our guardian angel. The latter two terms have acquired other meanings today, but at one time they echoed the notion James Hillman coined as “the soul’s code,” because they describe the unique mix of ideals and purpose imbued within each of us.

The scriptures give us a hint as to the source of each soul’s code. Paul, in his epistle to the Romans, says: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate…. (And) whom he did predestinate, them he also called:” Since God foreknew all His children, it stands to reason that He extended specific callings to each of us.

M. Scott Peck concurs with this view. In A World Waiting to be Born he says:
...God calls us human beings—whether skeptics or believers, whether Christian or not—to certain, often very specific activities. Furthermore, since God relates—(or)covenants—with us as individuals, so this matter of calling is utterly individualized.
Therein lies the principal difference between the Mosaic Law and Christ's gospel, and what is most difficult about the latter. While Moses' demands are clear and focused on behavior, Christ wants more than clean hands. He seeks faith without swagger, courage to accept highly personalized callings and, because each of us must walk a separate path, a willingness to embrace uncertainty.

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