What is it that you’re not letting yourself get excited about? Do you believe that everyone has a calling – an aspiration, a dream?
How often do you hit the pause button? When have you felt fully alive?
Were you raised up to think you were a unique snowflake? Do you still believe that? Would you rather be told what your station is?
Maria Shriver: What does it mean to you to be a poet?
Mary Oliver: I consider myself kind of a reporter—one who uses words that are more like music and that have a choreography. I never think of myself as a poet; I just get up and write. For most of my life, I haven’t had the structure of an actual job. When I was very young and decided I wanted to try to write as well as I could, I made a great list of all the things I would never have.
Maria Shriver: Wouldn’t have?
Mary Oliver: Would not have, because I thought poets never made any money. A house, a good car, I couldn’t go out and buy fancy clothes or go to good restaurants. I had the necessities. Not that I didn’t take some teaching jobs over the years—I just never took any interesting ones, because I didn’t want to get interested. That’s when I began to get up so early in the morning—you know I’m a 5 A.M. riser—so I could write for a couple of hours and then give my employer my very best second-rate energy [laughs].
In this interview, Mary Oliver talks about her calling to be a poet, what it’s meant and what it took. (Oliver’s work has been featured on this blog before.) Do you have a list of the things you’d be willing to give up to chase your calling? Are you okay with giving an employer your “very best second-rate energy”?
6. Our hearts expand as expectations contract. What about those great deeds we meant to do? Like many Jesuits, I once shared a fondness for knights on horses: the teams of Canisius High School in Buffalo, N.Y., were the Crusaders; McQuaid High School in Rochester had the Knights. All Jesuits aspire to do great things, I suppose: win over kingdoms and do battle with evil, like our founder Ignatius did. But as our hearts expand, our expectations contract. And the demons we fight can take strange shapes. What are we to do when we find the demons within us? These battles are not jousting contests, easily decided when one of the combatants is unseated, but long and painful campaigns in which it is not easy to tell whether one is winning or losing.
Old-timers may be battle-weary, but we are still swinging our swords. To put it another way, we have the same shortcomings, the same rough edges and pettiness as ever, but this just does not seem as important to us as it used to. While regretting that we are not better, we can integrate all we are into our offering to the Lord. As the years go by, my prayer increasingly is simply, “Lord, kindly accept the little I have to offer.” No dragons slain, no heads of enemies dangling from the belt, but we are still in for the whole campaign, however long it takes.
What could be simpler than that? So, maybe we elders have something to say to younger people, after all. I wish I could remember what it is.
Francis X. Hezel, S.J. offers 6 reflections on living life after seven decades. What little do you have to offer? Do you want to be a knight on a horse? How big are your expectations? How big is your heart?
Vocation does not come from willfulness. It comes from listening. I must listen to my life and try to understand what it is truly about – quite apart from what I would like it to be about – or my life will never represent anything real in the world, no matter how earnest my intentions.
That insight is hidden in the word vocation itself, which is rooted in the Latin for “voice.” Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am. I must listen for the truths and values at the heart of my own identity, not the standards by which I MUST live – but the standards by which I cannot help but live if I am living my own life.
– Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
Are you listening to your life? What is it telling you?
“I didn’t understand, until that moment, that you can only find joy and satisfaction when you have faced down the possibility of futility; when you’ve acknowledged the vapor, now you can actually enjoy…When you’ve faced the possibility that your actions may not bring about the result you wanted; when you surrender your desired outcome, and when we acknowledge our powerlessness, NOW we are free to enjoy. We may even be able to help somebody in the process.”
Rob Bell, teaching pastor at Mars Hill church in Grand Rapids, talks about Ecclesiastes, failure, and freedom in this podcast. Have you experienced that feeling of utter uselessness? Has it freed you, or bound you tighter to your own expectations?