Friday, 27 June 2014

Stuck in my head

Have you ever had the experience of someone getting something stuck in your head? Yesterday morning someone mentioned to me that they had potato gems for dinner. Immediately I began fantasising about potato gems: the crunch, the grease, the burning sensation from being too impatient to let them cool - potato gems are pure eating bliss! Even now, twenty four hours later, I still have a craving for potato gems!

But it's not just with food. On Sunday night my girlfriend's mother mentioned her favourite song. Everyday since then I've had that song stuck in my head: when I'm in the car it will no doubt come on the radio, or I catch my self humming the melody. It happens to me all the time: someone will mention a food or a song or a movie; and I'll spend the following minutes, hours, even days with it stuck in my head.

It's not just food or music that gets stuck in our heads though. I still remember back in Year 11 my Business teacher saying he couldn't picture me working in health care. Ever since then I have always thought that I couldn't work in health care.

Many vocations have been born out a comment or a question that has planted a thought in someone's head. Many priests and seminarians would say they pursued the vocation to priesthood because someone asked them if they'd ever thought about being a priest. Since I left the seminary many people have admitted to me that they couldn't see me becoming a priest; which has been a real confirmation of the journey I feel God is leading me on.

Words are powerful things, especially when they are spoken and spoken by people whom we trust or admire. There's no doubt in my mind that God could use such words to lead someone in their faith journey. So there's two challenges here for us:

1) To have the courage to speak such words. You might notice a gift or a talent or a passion in a friend, sibling, even a random at school or work. A word of encouragement or affirmation could lead to that person discovering the purpose God has placed in their life. It doesn't have to be big or prophetic, it could be something as simple as "hey, I noticed you're pretty good at ____/passionate about _____; have you ever thought of doing something with that?" Discernment isn't just about discerning your own vocation, but helping others discern their calling too.

2) To have the courage to accept such words. We often find it uncomfortable to have someone affirm our gifts, and it can be hard to accept such encouragement. The "tall poppy syndrome" which pervades our society tempts us not to stand out. If someone you really trust or admire points out a gift or talent or passion - follow it! As I said, there's no doubt in my mind that God speaks meaning and purpose to us through the words of those whom we really trust and admire. Sometimes though it may not be straightforward or even make sense to follow their advice, so there's a bit of risk involved. But affirmation, challenge or encouragement that is spoken sincerely will often point to the truth of who we are as human beings.

Really, the point I'm trying to make is that God does speak to us; and when someone's words get stuck in your head, they're probably stuck there for good reason. We need to listen carefully to how our vocation unfolds through our daily experiences. And we need to have the courage to take up the invitation to uncover the fullness of who we have been created to be.

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Shirts and stripes

Last week I had a small dilemma and I took to Facebook to find an answer. I couldn't tell if this shirt was pink with white stripes or white with pink stripes:

Why is this such a pressing question for me you ask? Partly because I'd held out so long against the "pink tide" flooding through menswear stores over the last few years. However, this isn't simply an issue of shirt colours, this is an issue of perspective. It’s a familiar question: is the glass half full or half empty, is this issue black or white?

Too often though we can’t decide between one or the other and so we settle with the grey matter. But as one wise man once told me: between black and white isn't grey matter, between black and white is actually every colour in the spectrum...........Deep.

I don’t believe that God created the world to be one thing or the other. I can’t believe that. Everything within me tells me that for the world to be created it must have been created by someone pretty darn amazing, and that they wouldn't have cut corners either. Such a God and such a world couldn't be boxed in as black or white, half full or half empty.  As I look around at the world my senses are enchanted by a dynamism far more complicated than just black or white.

If I live in such a world that presents so many options, how can I make decisions based on black or white? How can I live in ignorance of all the teals, the African purples, the banana yellows and blanched almonds (list courtesy of Wikipedia, I had no idea there were so many colours!) that surround me in life?

Perspective: it’s a game changer, and if we are real about making a difference in the world than we can’t simply look at the world as black or white. Is my shirt pink with white stripes or white with pink stripes? Actually, it’s a piece of clothing that I’m able to wear to work when elsewhere in this world there are people that have neither clothing or employment. Is the world black and white, or is it a realm full of possibility that's awaiting transformation? I don't know about you, but I'll choose not to be colour blind.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

Untold Stories

"There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you."
 -Maya Angelou

When I was a child, my Grandmother and I would regularly visit the library, borrow a ton of books and we would spend hours together reading stories. I'm sure I frustrated my Grandmother though because often I wasn't content with just reading the stories, but telling many of my own stories as we went along! 

Kids are funny like that, right? Between the ages of about 4-12 children seem to think that they must tell you everything, as if every story they have to tell contains crucial information for the rest of their existence and if they don't tell you they will spontaneously combust!

Somewhere along the line though, societal expectations choke out the imagination of story telling. Life becomes less about the narrative and more about checklists. My life over the last few years has become about a checklist: get a car, get a degree, get a girlfriend, travel, get a promotion; pretty much my life became about fleshing out my resume or list of achievements. But when you're confronted with decisions about where you're going next, tick boxes and achievements are little help. There needs to be a deeper consciousness of the story God is leading you through.

I often tell the story that when I went to the seminary to train to become a priest, I would feel an urging or a prompting to go a different direction in life. In faith-speak we'd say that it was the Holy Spirit leading me. But even that can sound a bit ambiguous, and it didn't really explain fully what was going on within me. Then I read the above quote from Maya Angelou, and I think it articulates what was going on in me. For me, as I underwent my formation and training for the priesthood, I had this sense from God that there was an untold story within me.

Let me make this very clear though: it wasn't about wanting to have a girlfriend, or wanting to do normal things like other 19/20 year olds, and it wasn't about needing to get more life experience before I became a priest; it was a calling to engage a story I needed to tell. That story included two years of youth ministry and now one and a half years with the Vocations office. I didn't go back to the seminary to continue my formation for priesthood (it's important to note that many men do leave and return later in life); but I can start to see how the pieces of my past fit together and it helps me to understand where I'm going in the future.

The whole "you have a story to tell" thing gets a bit old, I know. But whichever phrase you want to use - story, calling, destiny, purpose, life, whatever - you have it and its beautiful and powerful and unique; and you will never know it unless you engage in it. And leaving that story untold isn't just your loss; for God would use that story to impact on the world and on the Church. Don't leave your story untold, it is mysteriously necessary to the community of humanity.