‘Celebrating the vocation to science,engineering, medicine and business’

Here is the text of a sermon I preached at the Choral Evensong this week sung by Imperial College Chamber Choir in Holy Trinity Church, South Kensington. The questions for pondering about vocations in work or volunteering that were in the service sheet are at the end of the post.

Vocation

The theme of this evenings service is ‘Celebrating the vocation to science, engineering, medicine and business.’

My conversations as a Chaplain with students and staff are often about what people enjoy in their work, the challenges and problems. It’s also often about whether their work is a good fit with how they see their skills and experiences. I want to continue these conversations tonight with a few reflections about vocation and calling.

‘Calling’ is a term that is applied to some professions – medicine, nursing teaching. But I would like to extend it to cover most work. Some of the features of a calling or vocation might be;

  • a sense of the work being a good fit with our skills and abilities;
  • service to others
  • making the world ordered, safe or more connected
  • bringing creativity to bear on problems
  • the need for determination
  • application over time

 

These features could all apply to work within business, engineering, administration, and support as much as in medicine or ordained ministry in the church.

Reflection on our calling might also be about discerning how to keep going at a role or project when times are tough. It could be about learning when to look for new direction in work or how to let a deep passion and interest flourish outside work.

Events can shape these decisions. For example. George Dyson who composed the music for parts of tonight’s service, was a soldier during World War One. He wrote a pamphlet about the use of grenades in warfare before suffering with shell shock. After the war he followed a career in music eventually becoming the Director of the Royal College of Music across the road. Following a calling and finding a vocation is often not straightforward. George Dyson, for all his success as a musician once applied to be the organist of this Church – unsuccessfully!

There is encouragement in many of the Bible stories. There is often a sense of unexpected people being called. So, David the youngest son who has to be fetched from tending the sheep when the next king of Israel is being chosen from among his brothers. It is David who becomes the greatest king of Israel.  Saul was persecuting the new followers of Jesus when he hears his call during his conversion on the road to Damascus. He then becomes Paul, one of Jesus’ most dedicated followers. The idea is that others, including God, might see things in us that we cannot see ourselves, and that there is more to be called out from within us.

All this is talk about vocation and calling is against the background that most of us have to work by necessity to provide shelter food and warmth for ourselves and our families.

Sometimes our passions outside of work might be our calling. In the 19th century this was called an ‘avocation’ – a pursuit followed with passion and determination over time that fits our skills and the deep sense of who we are. Examples of avocation that I know include an IT technician who draws with great skill, medics who sing and compose music, a guy who works in a factory and who does amazing youth work in the evening.

Olivier Messiaen the composer of our last anthem tonight had a lifelong interest in birdsong and birds. His passion for ornithology often led to the sounds of birdsong being incorporated into his compositions.

The Canticles, the Song of Mary and the Song of Simeon, are sung at every evensong and also speak of ‘calling’ (and thanks to George Dyson for the musical setting for these tonight). These Canticles are the songs of a young woman accepting a calling, and of an old man who finally sees his calling come to fulfilment. For Mary it’s the beginning of intimacy with Christ. For Simeon it is the practice of looking out for Christ in daily life.

The readings we are going to hear from Isaiah and Matthew set work in the context of God’s love. For Isaiah it is a love that leads to the practical justice where everyone gets to enjoy the fruits of their work. In Matthew we hear the call to set our minds above all on the values of God’s kingdom.

To help our reflection tonight there are some questions to ponder from John Adair, an army officer and management consultant. The questions are around vocation or calling in the widest sense. They might be good ways to reflect on our work or how we might slowly recognise the emerging call to new projects or commitments.

My God’s spirit of wisdom be present in all our reflections tonight. Amen.

Old Testament Reading: Isaiah 65:20-23

New Testament Reading: Matthew 6:24-34

 

 

Text from the service sheet.

 

Reflecting on Vocation

During the service you might like to look at the questions below.

Which question captures your attention the most?

Which one is ‘the question to live with’ for a period of time?

 

Do you feel a long-term commitment to your present occupation or field of work?

Has anyone used the adjective ‘dedicated’ to describe you or the way you go about your work or voluntary work?

Do you feel that your abilities match the requirements of your particular role?

Can you think of another profession, trade or field that you would rather be in?

Does your present work give you scope for creativity?

Are you always seeking new and better ways of doing things?

Have you discovered work or volunteering that you can be really enthusiastic about, in spite of its ups and downs?

Has your enthusiasm for your work or volunteering been tested and sustained over a period of years?

Do you have a sense of being, as it were, at the call of your work, and through your work to others?

Are you learning about yourself through your work or volunteering?

Is there something else you would rather be doing that gives life to others?

What helps you keep going?

(adapted from John Adair’s ‘How to find your vocation: a guide to discovering the work you love’)

 

 

 

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Celebrating the vocation to science, engineering, medicine and business.

The next Choral Evensong at Imperial will explore the connections between faith and work. We will be celebrating the vocations to do science, engineering, medicine and business. Here is an extract from some conversations about vocation.image

Christianity talks about ‘vocation’ or ‘calling’. It starts with the idea that people are ‘called by God’. Often this means unexpected people are ‘called’ by God to do surprising things. Moses, for example, was a Hebrew raised by an wealthy Egyptian princess, who leads the enslaved Hebrew people to freedom. Saul is persecuting Jesus’ followers when he has his Damascus Road experience and becomes Paul a disciple of Jesus.   In Christianity everyone who is baptised is ‘called by God’ to follow Jesus.

‘Vocation’ and ‘Calling’ are also closely linked to our working world. ‘Calling’ expresses something about each person’s unique skills, gifts and personality.

We also talk of some careers as being ‘callings’, for example, nursing, medicine, and teaching. But what about other forms of work, like running a business, administration, catering? Can these be callings?

The religious language of calling can prompt some practical questions about how we see our work.

How much of our deepest self goes into our work? Too much, not enough?

If work is what I do to pay the bills, is my  ‘calling’ something I do outside of my work?

How much enthusiasm or passion do I have (or still have) for my work?

Does my work or voluntary work ‘fit well’ with my skills, temperament and talents?

Is my work or voluntary work making the world a better place for others? Does it bring life or hope?

Am I being ‘called’ to something new? How would I recognise that calling?

 

Every person has their vocation. The talent is the call.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Love doesn’t sit here like a stone; it is to be made like bread, remade all the time, made anew’.
Ursula LeGuin

‘In the Gospel, vocation means being a human being, now, and being neither more, nor less, than a human being now…And, thus, each and every decision, whether it seems great or small, whether obviously or subtly a moral problem, becomes and is a vocational event, secreting, as it were, the very issue of existence.’
William Stringfellow

 

 

Intersection of religion, sexuality and transgender.

Screen shot from Imperial's Diversity page

I have been invited to join the Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Form at Imperial.

It has been four years since I have been involved in EDI groups in HE. Coming back into the structures I notice the increased interest in how religion is just one of often several ‘protected characteristics’ in a person’s life.

The overlap of diferent aspects of identity is now being talked about as ‘intersectionality’.

Intersectionality considers that the various forms of what it sees as social stratification, such as class, race, sexual orientation, age, disability and gender, do not exist separately from each other but are complexly interwoven. (from Wikipedia)

As the College is preparing a policy to improve the experience of students and staff who are transgender, I gathered some links to UK-based LGBT+ groups for different world faiths. These are some of the places where religion ‘intersects’ with sexuality and transgender. Please share the links with those who might find them useful.

Imaan  is the long established Muslim LGBT+ network and support agency.

The national Jewish LGBT+ organisation goes by the local title Gay Jews in London.

For the intersection of Christian faith with transgender and sexuality check out:

Diverse Church  is an LGBT+ support network originating from HE Chaplaincy and a university LGBT+ student society

And there is a wealth of information and links at Transgender Christians.

 

Watching the darkness come in…

 

imageBefore Mindfulness, we had Silent RCA. This was a student inspired project that offered fifteen minutes of shared silence each week. People used the silence in their own way. Some just sat, others prayed, and some did meditation. One person sat on the floor and did yoga.

The student who started the project told me when she was a young child her grandmother would say

‘Come and sit with me by the window… let’s watch the darkness fall and the night arrive, then we can light the candle’.

She remembered it as a special time, sitting with her grandmother watching the darkness slowly arrive.

Rowan Williams, when he was Archbishop of Canterbury, was asked a question about how to pray when life is busy. He said that even when life was hectic each day gave two invitations to pause; the arrival of daylight and the arrival of the night time.

In Christianity and many religions, these are the traditional daily moments to pray. Perhaps dawn and dusk remind us of our place in the world and our place in time. The sun will rise and set with or without us noticing. They are always there – an invitation to pause, to pay attention to what’s unfolding around us and to notice ‘where we are’.

Grateful (for not using religious language)

David Steindal RastI greatly admire the way the Benedictine monk David Steindl-Rast talks about gratefulness and thankfulness without using religious language.

As a monk the religious tradition influences every aspect of his daily life.  Yet, in his TED talk  he does not use religious language. He gets right  to the heart of our human experience.

He has a striking phrase ‘What is the opportunity of this given moment?’

Religious practice is supposed to bring life. It is not supposed to be an end in itself – a language and practice for its own sake.

Here is an extract of his conversation with Krista Tippet from the On Being podcast.

David Steindl Rast:
When you are in practice, a split second is enough to stop. And then you look. What is, now, the opportunity of this given moment? Only this moment, the unique opportunity this moment gives? And that is where this beholding comes in.

And if we really see what the opportunity is, we must, of course, not stop there, but we must do something with it. Go. Avail yourself of that opportunity. And if you do that, if you try practicing that at this moment, tonight, we would already be happier people, because it has an immediate feedback of joy.

 I always say not — I don’t speak of the gift, because not for everything that’s given to you can you really be grateful. You can’t be grateful for war in a given situation, or violence, or domestic violence, or sickness, things like that. There are many things for which you cannot be grateful.

But in every moment, you can be grateful. For instance, the opportunity to learn something from a very difficult experience, what to grow by it, or even to protest, to stand up, and take a stand. That is a wonderful gift in a situation in which things are not the way they ought to be.

So, opportunity is really the key when people ask, can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything, but in every moment.’

 

 

 

 

 

Resources for the Advent Journey

Autumn mist (4)This coming Sunday is the start of Advent – the time of preparation for the Christmas celebration of Jesus’ birth.

This is time of  ‘waiting and watching’  but also seeking hope in the face of suffering.

Here are some links, resources and services for Advent that you might find useful, or prompt you to find something else that will work for you.

If you would like daily reflections on Advent themes check out:

  • Richard Rohr’s Center for Contemplation and Action
  •  The World Community for Christian Meditation  encourages Centering Prayer. Subscribe at ‘Support for your practice’ at the foot of the linked page.
  • The Evangelical, student inspired, international 24/7Prayer community is committed to action for justice. They are offering a series of pod-casts for  Advent.
  • AdventWord is produced by Virginia Theological Seminary and the Anglican Communion Office. Sign up or follow @adventword or search on Face-book.

For a longer read
The Advent season also invites us to reflect on the themes of death, judgment and the end of the world.
This can be a less traveled part of the Advent season. But these themes can also be an entry point to the depth of God’s love in a world containing far too much suffering and conflict.
I recently came across a great sermon on these less comfortable Advent themes by Rev’d Lucy Winkett, Vicar of St James’ Piccadilly.
You can find the full text here but this is foretaste…

‘all this Advent spirituality is as far away from the tinsel-covered Christmas commercialism as you can get. It is choosing to hope in the darkness of not knowing. It is revolutionary patience,stubborn hope that will not ignore the suffering of the world but acknowledges that somewhere, even now, the war is over, and the uncovering of things is upon us, beside us, within us.’

best wishes for reflective prayerful Advent.

Andrew

Christian meditation:different ways of seeing.

Look right

Different  people are drawn to different ways of praying. I keep being reminded of this in one to one conversations and  offering workshops.

There is no point forcing ourselves into a model and method of prayer that does not work for us.

So here is a list of some of the main traditions of Christian silent prayer and meditation.

As you read it try to notice if one of them catches your attention more than others. This might give some idea of the direction you might want to go next.  This paying attention is also a key element of many of the methods themselves.

Centering Prayer
A period of silence, using a word said silently as a focus to lead us into deeper silence and stillness.

Lectio Divina
A slow reading of scripture passage several times, while watching to see where our attention is drawn.Then sitting for a period of silence with the word or phrase to which we were drawn.

Ignatian meditation
A way of using the imagination to picture, hear, feel and even smell the scene of scripture.The asking ‘where am I in this passage?’ and sitting quietly with what comes to mind.

Ignatian review.
A way of looking back on the day to notice and sit with moments when we had energy and/or felt close to God and able to love, as well as those times when we felt drained of energy and felt far away from God and unable to love.

Prayer of the heart.
Placing the attention in the body, particularly the heart, and holding situations and people there so that they are both ‘in mind and in the body’.

Mantra or repeating phrase.
The Jesus Prayer is a good example of this where a phrase is used in formal prayer and during activities as a way of maintaining awareness and praying constantly.

Repeating prayer.
Both the Rosary and the Lutheran ‘Pearls of Life’ offer a structured physical way to pray, using repeated words to give focus and to get beyond the words.

Pilgrimage, labyrinths  and walking meditation.
These are all ways to use the movement of the body as prayer.

Practice of the presence of God.
A way of being open to the full experience including God’s presence during daily life.

Did you notice which drew your attention more than others? If so this might indicate something to explore further. If nothing clicked today, keep watching and observing!

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list. Many of these ways overlap with each other. One favourite method might not last a whole lifetime.

This article was first circulated as part of our weekly mailing week about different aspects of meditation and contemplation in Christian tradition. If you would like to subscribe to the list please contact me at  chaplaincy@imperial.ac.uk

 

Trauma and Resilience Land in Our Bodies

strand of barbed wire against a meadowThis is more of a long listen than a long read but you can do both thanks to the On Being website.

I have listened to this podcast conversation between Krista Tippett and Prof Bessel van der Kolk three times and am not done yet. I am fascinated by the interest of neuroscience in our experiences of our own bodies.

In the chaplaincy at Imperial we are not working with people with severe traumas. But many students and staff tell us that they come with high levels of anxiety, fatigue or diagnosed depression. Many have been referred by the Student Counselling and Mental Health Advice Service or the psychotherapy team at the university medical centre.

For all of us practicing meditation there is a whole turn towards paying attention to the sensations of being ‘in our bodies’. Seems obvious, but as van der Kolk puts it “Western culture is astoundingly disembodied and uniquely so.”

I used to be a human being too.

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“An endless bombardment of news and gossip and images has rendered us manic information addicts. It broke me. It might break you, too.”

By

Here is a very long read by Andrew Sullivan.  He starts by describing how he detoxed from constant digital activity and distraction. Things had got serious (the full url for the article  is “technology nearly killed me”).

Sullivan describes learning to meditate and use mindfulness. He gives a good description of the process of slowing down and moving away from his frenetic online life. I think this will resonate with many of us. It is something we have conversations about in chaplaincy work with students and staff.

What surprised me, coming after this description of Mindfulness, was  his complaint about the lack of silence in contemporary Christian worship. Fair point. If you are interested in Christian mediation and contemplation keep going to the end!

This is a good long reflection on what silence, presence and connection could mean in the digital age.

The article first appeared in the New Yorker Magazine on 18th September 2016.

“When we pray for our enemies, we may find that we are simultaneously emboldened to stand for justice while we are also less able to demonize another human being.”

micahel-curry
Photo credit: Associated Press with permission from Episcopal Church website

The Episcopal Church in Washington was criticised by Christians, and others, for hosting the traditional prayers before the inauguration  of Donald Trump as president.

A response to the criticism of the Cathedral came in an open letter from Michael Curry, the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church of America.The title of this post is a quote from the letter. Michael Curry is offering a reminder to Christians of the many connections between prayer and protest. Prayer can critique, lament, stir us to  action, sustain protest, deepen hope and enrich longing.

The full text of the letter is below but, in an age of ‘fake news’, here is the original context.

January 12, 2017

The following is a statement from Presiding Bishop and Primate Michael B. Curry.

This past week, Barack H. Obama, the 44th President of the United States, in the tradition of Presidents dating back to George Washington, gave his farewell address to the nation. Next week Donald J. Trump, in the same tradition of this country, will take the oath of office and be inaugurated as the 45th President.

We recognize that this election has been contentious, and the Episcopal Church, like our nation, has expressed a diversity of views, some of which have been born in deep pain.

There has been much discussion, and some controversy, about the appropriateness of the Washington National Cathedral hosting the Inaugural Prayer Service this year, and of church choirs singing at inaugural events.

Underneath the variety of questions and concerns are some basic Christian questions about prayer: when I pray for our leaders, why am I doing so?  Should I pray for a leader I disagree with? When I pray what do I think I am accomplishing?

On one level these questions seem inconsequential and innocuous. But real prayer is not innocuous. It is powerful. That question can become poignant and even painful as it is for many in this moment, given that some of the values that many of us heard expressed over the past year have seemed to be in contradiction to deeply-held Christian convictions of love, compassion, and human dignity.

So, should we pray for the President?

We can and, indeed, I believe we must pray for all who lead in our civic order, nationally and internationally. I pray for the President in part because Jesus Christ is my Savior and Lord.  If Jesus is my Lord and the model and guide for my life, his way must be my way, however difficult. And the way prayer for others is a part of how I follow the way of Jesus.

This practice of praying for leaders is deep in our biblical and Anglican/Episcopalian traditions. Psalm 72 prays that the ancient Israelite king might rule in the ways of God’s justice, defending “the cause of the poor,” bringing “deliverance to the needy.” 1 Timothy 2:1-2 encourages followers of Jesus to pray earnestly for those in leadership, that they may lead in ways that serve the common good.  Even in the most extreme case, Jesus himself said, while dying on the cross, “Father forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing,” was praying for Pontius Pilate, the Governor of Rome who ordered his execution, and for all who were complicit in it.

In this spirit, the Prayer Books of the Anglican/Episcopal way have always included prayer for those “who bear the authority of government,” praying in a variety of ways that they may lead in the ways of God’s wisdom, justice and truth. When we pray for Donald, Barack, George, Bill, George, or Jimmy, Presidents of the United States, we pray for their well-being, for they too are children of God, but we also pray for their leadership in our society and world. We pray that they will lead in the ways of justice and truth. We pray that their leadership will truly serve not partisan interest but the common good. When we pray for them, we are actually praying for our nation, for our world, indeed we are praying for ourselves.

Prayer is not a simplistic cheer or declaration of support. Prayers of lament cry out in pain and cry for justice. Prayer can celebrate. Prayer can also ask God to intervene and change the course of history, to change someone’s mind, or his or her heart.  When we pray for our enemies, we may find that we are simultaneously emboldened to stand for justice while we are also less able to demonize another human being.

Real prayer is both contemplative and active. It involves a contemplative conversation with and listening to God, and an active following of the way of Jesus, serving and witnessing in the world in his Name. For those who follow the way of Jesus, the active side of our life of prayer seeks to live out and help our society live out what it means to “love your neighbor as yourself.” So we work for a good and just, humane and loving society. We participate as followers of Jesus in the life of our government and society, caring for each other and others, and working for policies and laws that reflect the values and teachings of Jesus to “love your neighbor,” to “do unto others as you who have them do unto you,” to fashion a civic order that reflects the goodness, the justice, the compassion that we see in the face of Jesus, that we know to reflect the very heart and dream of God for all of God’s children and God’s creation.

I grew up in a historically black congregation in the Episcopal Church. We prayed for leaders who were often lukewarm or even opposed to our very civil rights. We got on our knees in church and prayed for them, and then we got up off our knees and we Marched on Washington. Following the way of Jesus, we prayed and protested at the same time. We prayed for our leaders who were fighting for our civil rights, we prayed for those with whom we disagreed, and we even prayed for those who hated us. And we did so following the Jesus, whose way is the way of unselfish, sacrificial love. And that way is the way that can set us all free.

As we celebrate the birth of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., we may find guidance in his words, spoken during one of the most painful and difficult struggles in the Civil Rights Movement. He asked that all participants live by a set of principles. The first principle read: “As you prepare to march, meditate on the life and teachings of Jesus.”

Should we pray for the President?

Yes!

The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry

Presiding Bishop and Primate

The Episcopal Church