when you are too small for Aleppo

I feel weird sharing this, and I would feel weird not sharing this: I wrote two versions of my last post, about Aleppo, and they said nearly opposite things.

As I pondered Aleppo, I wondered, too, about all the war zones I don’t know about—the ones I don’t have the energy for. And my fingers flew off on something of a tangent that, in the end, I recognized as good and true but I also felt myself resisting. It was true for someone or sometime, but that night my own heart needed another cry. And that other cry is the one I published.

The first draft was for another me: the me who is so often overwhelmed by this world and so often unable to cope with her own small fears and wounds, who would be drowned so easily by it all if there weren’t grace for her, too. Although this week my own call was to pay attention, keep vigil here for Aleppo, just as often, I learn that my calling is to let it be; it is held. I hesitate to say this is a balance; that sounds like a skill you could develop or a decision you could make using a flow chart. Finding a place between a compassion that stretches you, and an acceptance of your own finitude even in this regard, and then again the knowledge that God calls us sometimes to a compassion that breaks—this is the work of the Spirit. It is a mystery, not a balance.

It can be true that we have a responsibility to lament and, at the same time, that you have a responsibility to rest, or to lament for something closer to home, or to hold those who lament. If Aleppo, so far away and so unbearable, is too much for you to hold this week, here is your permission to unfollow.

Our technologies push us beyond our limits in countless ways, but for some of us, this is the most persistently bewildering. It is beyond us to process a new disaster every week and every day, to carry news of this civil war and that kidnapping, this famine and that drug war, let alone the occasional reminders that refugee camps, climate disasters, human enslavement, utter poverty grind on and on every day, far from the front page. No one could respond appropriately to any one of these things over any course of time, but they appear, rapid-fire, in our feeds. We breathe prayers and give a few dollars and we feel that it is nothing, and it is nothing, and we flick the thing away before it drowns us in despair.

The expanse of humanity is more interconnected than ever before, but is that even a good thing? Can you encounter the expanse of humanity with an open heart? Or would it tear you open at the seams?

I submit that if you tried to direct fifteen minutes of your full attention to every disaster, crisis, and tragedy that crossed your field of vision, you would be crushed. Try to absorb it all, and blow after blow will leave you gasping against a wall; try to carry it all, and you will stumble, too tired to lift your face from the mud; try to love them all, and you will suffocate as the weight of your body and theirs halts your breathing, alone and covered with wounds.

Only one person has ever been able to hold it all. But not before it killed him.

You are small, faithful one, and grace frees you to admit that. You are allowed to breathe prayers and give a few dollars and return to the work you are doing in your own heart, in your own neighborhood, in your own state. Yes, it is enough to send a letter to your Congressperson advocating for refugee resettlement the United States. Yes, it is enough to light a candle. Yes, it is enough to lament. Yes, it is enough to feed your neighbor or to have sent all your money to last week’s cause, because anything but paralysis pushes back the darkness. If you are asking the question, then it is enough. If you are open to the voice of the Spirit, then you will know when it is your day to mourn for strangers. If you are faithful to your own daily work, then you will have made room for God to do God’s work.

Look, friend, before we were connected by the lights and bytes zinging around the globe, we were connected to each other by the dust from which we were formed. Scientists are just discovering what Jesus had told us all along: that nothing exists apart from the webs of life that enfold and ground it. To say your actions in Tennessee affect people’s lives in Syria is not simply a metaphor. And the more we learn about the problems of the world, the more we see that this is true: the destruction of the planet is the poverty of its poorest is the violence of its most desperate is the indifference and isolation of its wealthy. It feels like bad news, that no single problem has a single solution in this weary world. But if all of our problems are connected, then all the solutions are, too. Your own generosity and patience and peace are the restoration of something and a saving grace to someone else. They are miracles, they are ripples in a pond, they are the very most raw materials of the Spirit’s transforming work in the whole earth.

You will know the people, places, and politics to which you are called. Some of us are keeping vigil for Aleppo, fighting for local food, and holding potlucks for our neighbors. Maybe you sacrifice for other things. These are all simply offerings to One who gathers them together, breaks them, and by a miracle feeds a hungry world. He holds it without your help, and he holds you without any anger at your smallness. Let it be. It is beyond you. He weeps for all that you cannot.


The Call of God

My Vocation
by Lyndsey Graves

Can we talk about this word “vocation” for a hot second? Why we keep saying “vocation” when we mean “career”? We take the word “calling from God” and apply it to our aspirations for paid employment. How small of us. It’s just like when you meet someone at a party and you ask them what they “do”. We ask young people about their vocation so we can spiritualize our curiosity about what they’re going to “do”. I’ve been pursuing higher education for six years now, and for six years people have been pestering me about my vocation.

Well, one of my vocations is to be a student. I am a damn good student. If I were not reading and writing in some capacity, I’d be wasting my time on this earth. When I took a year and worked at a food pantry, reading and writing still called to me from deep inside. I work hard at school because God made me a thinker; I am smack in the middle of my vocation. I’m not waiting for it.

I have lots of other vocations, too, things God has me doing now and things that beckon from the future. I share love with a good-hearted man from New York state. I give money to my local church. I make food for my housemates and I clutch a phone in laughter and in prayer for friends states away. I visit my family in Georgia as much as possible. I’m supposed to talk to my priest about the way our church can love gay people, but I’m too scared. And in the future, I’m hoping to live in the South. I plan to be a gardener. I will be a person of hospitality and open my home to others as often as possible. I will count as friends those who are different from me. I will care for my friends more than for comfort and love my family more than career-pride. This is the calling of God on my life.

What I do for money is cater gourmet events at Boston museums. Is that my vocation? No. It’s a way to get money, and it would sicken me to try and spiritualize it, for all the people we get drunk and all the food we throw away. It’s not the vocation of anyone else who works there either, but it’s some people’s lifelong career. Not everyone gets to sit around and speculate about what very special job fits their very special self. Some people just have to make money.

What we do all share is a vocation to personhood, to the fulfillment of that full humanity that is so betrayed by our sin, our determination to stay small and selfish. That is the vocation I have pursued in seminary, and that has, indeed, changed and grown. I have learned how many ways there are to abandon this world for the love of God, and I have followed God ever-deeper into God’s love for the world. I have lost the taste for ready-made food and plastic celebrations; I’ve dug my fingers into the promises of fresh cilantro and the old-fashioned happiness of tea and candlelight. I’ve lost the knack of excusing injustice and claiming it’s not my fault; yet I’ve left behind the self-righteousness of thinking I alone could put it right again. I’ve continued the long trek of holiness we’ve all been wandering since kindergarten, those days when tasks like sharing and being nice and helping people and cleaning up after myself have seemed just as insurmountable as they ever were.

I’ve forgotten to pray and remembered again; I’ve deliberately run from God and then collapsed into her arms again, where she was patiently following me all along. This is all there is to do as humans in our hundred years – to be, people, with God, to learn love by doing the brave right thing, to put down the save-the-world schemes we’ve constructed out of pipe cleaners and pray every once in a while that we can love somebody today. It is a way of being, not a career goal, that determines whether we’re fulfilling our duty and our identity as God’s beloved. It is my vocation, in the end, to be generous and love the surprise of letting go, to be humble and love laughter, to be understanding and love the hearts of others under all their unloveable fears and failures and spikes.

Shall I betray all these whispering nudges of the Holy Spirit by throwing the rich words of my faith to a world that calls me only to produce and consume?

If you would like to know my dearest hopes for making a living and spending the bulk of my days, I will tell you that I want to be a professor of theology for undergraduates, and a writer of practical theology for anyone. I want to help others know and love God with their minds. My heart beats fuller when I watch others learn, and it sings when I write. I have learned this semester that the students I want so much to care for will frustrate, ignore, and disrespect me at times. But I have seen them get it, too, seen them assimilate new skills and formulate new thoughts and ask God new questions. That has been an amazing experience.

If I make it in the competitive professor profession, I will know this is the very special job for me. I certainly plan to continue doing my best to get there. But if I don’t make it, I’ll trust that there’s some other place I’m meant to make time for writing, teach and learn with others, invite them into my home, help us all figure out how to be. These are the gifts that call me out of myself. These are the activities I’m meant to prioritize. These are my vocations.

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