Puzzling Over the Call of GodLike with a Rubik’s Cube, a secret unlocks the puzzle of the call of God on one’s life. There is a pattern and a purpose, and somehow it fits together in an integrated whole.
A challenge. Issued from an unlikely source. Put in our hands, to somehow figure out. Decode. Master. Like a six-sided Rubik’s Cube, the call of God appears a simple matter. At first. Until you get your hands on it, and begin twisting it this way and that, examining and re-examining it from every angle. What is it supposed to look like? Will I ever get it right?
Frustration sets in, especially when it looks like you’ve almost got it – and you don’t. Instead, you are forced to backtrack several steps. And look again.
Instinctively, you know there is a trick. A secret. Some key that unlocks the puzzle and puts the red squares neatly beside other red squares; yellow next to yellow; blue against blue. You’ve seen it done. You have a longing to do it too.
It must make sense. Life must make sense. There must be some pattern, some purpose. Surely these pieces, this maze of colour, must fit together into a coherent whole – somehow.
But how do you master the call of God on your life, when even a simple mechanical puzzle can prove daunting? While a calling toward the things of God is not mechanical in nature, its mysterious workings do follow a logic of their own. This logic of the call is rife with contradictions – reconciled largely through the tension of allowing them to co-exist, until cooperation with the divine is attained.
A man with the call of God
St. Columba (521-97), for instance, was a man with the call of God on his life. He was a monk and an evangelist. He had visions and a clear hope for the future. He established monasteries on Derry, Durrow and Kells. His preaching and counsel would affect thousands in his own lifetime and countless future generations. The twists and turns along the way may have suggested otherwise. There were contradictions. The story of his life is not an easy read. Only in retrospect does one see the hand of God unmistakeably at work, and recognize the way in which the imperfect is made holy.
Columba, a prince in his own right, left behind his beloved Ireland as a result of a self-imposed exile. He sailed to Iona, Scotland in 563. His journey was punishment for a battle he led that resulted in 3,000 deaths. As penance, he chose the white martyrdom of exile rather than excommunication from the Church. An ulterior reason for the ordeal pointed to the politics of the day, suggesting his former abbot wanted revenge for a disputed copy of the Psalms. Columba had lovingly copied the book on his own time, in a cramped and poorly lit scriptorium: Columba thought the labour of love to be his own; the abbot claimed ownership because the book was copied at his monastery. The abbot applied pressure to the ruling ecclesiastical authorities and Columba took what he saw as a way out – the abbot kept the book.
God uses the trials (frustrations, setbacks) of this world to accomplish his eternal purposes. St. Columba, the dove, went on to broker peace in his newly adopted region and converted thousands of Picts to a brand of Celtic Christianity that endures to this day. The kingdom of God, however, is not without tears (see Psalm 126:5).
When Columba and his band of disciples arrived in a vessel known as a corrach on the southern tip of the tiny island (3.5 miles long by one mile wide) off the southwest tip of Scotland, the saint climbed a hill and named it the equivalent of, “I turn my back on Ireland.” Today, the Bay of Columba boasts a band of green stones that tumble in the tides, recalling the sound of those tears. Modern-day islanders and pilgrims still value the ones that are most translucent.
“Opposing sides” of the call of God
Heeding the call of God does not make you immortal or invisible, but it does evoke a transparency and vulnerability. At the same time, you gain an intimate (and therefore unshakeable) knowledge of the saints that surround you, like a cloud of witnesses (see Hebrews 12:1).
This is the first set of “opposing sides” of the call of God, much like the opposing sides that must align on the playful cube, which was popular in the ‘80s and serves today as a useful metaphor. On the one side, you have transparency – a willingness to repent of even the most stubborn sins. On the opposite side, you have a sense of being shielded. The closer you move towards the call of God, the greater distance arrows of the world have to fly to reach you.
In other words, to move toward the call of God, you must also move away from the things of this world that distract you. Most likely, these will have something in common. For instance, Columba was a man of war. As a man of God, however, he brokered peace among competing warlords and clansmen.
This brings us to the second set of opposing sides of the call of God. On the one hand, there is the inner aspect of calling, which transcends place and time. This will show up again and again, regardless of circumstance. Its nagging quality serves as a gentle reminder that you are unique and God is interested in the outcome of your life.
The inner aspect of the call may be obvious to none but you. It pertains to what attracts you. It is difficult to articulate and therefore shared with few.
On the other hand, there is the outer aspect of the call. This is revealed through circumstances, natural inclinations and obvious gifting. It pertains to how you apply yourself in any given task. Are you artistic? Prophetic? Do you bring a particular insight to what you do and say? Or are you a builder? Visionary? Do you turn a blind eye to obstacles and a deaf ear to naysayers? Are you pastoral? Compassionate? Do you embrace people and make their problems your problems?
The outer aspect of the call is the thing people talk about, when they talk about you. It pertains to how you approach things. It wears no disguise and cannot be hidden.
When these two aspects of the call line up, there is freedom for others to share your joy. We say, “She has found her niche,” or “He is a born salesman.” There is a true sense of accomplishment. You are able to put your desires to work.
…the third set of opposing sides is the daily rehearsal of details versus … the dream.
For instance, St. Columba was a man after God. This was the inner call, one only a few understood. The outer call was obvious; he was a man who others went after. He was a leader. It didn’t matter if he was leading an army, a group of disciples, his clansmen, monks or a political delegation – he was the unopposed (and sought-out) leader. These two aspects of the call came together when he drew others into the same pursuit of the holy One that pressed upon his own soul.
Finally, completing our picture of the cube, the third set of opposing sides is the daily rehearsal of details versus the “more than I could have asked for, hoped or imagined” aspect of the call of God. The details versus the dream.
On the one hand, you have the wonderful (but laboured) practice of prayer, meditation and study. As a monk, Columba was well versed in the psalms, the word and the teachings of the Lord. This was his equipment. It allowed him to lead with integrity, authority and wisdom. Today, we do not have such luxury of time, but spiritual practices remain central to the life of Christians called to be living sacrifices (see Romans 12:1-2) in a fallen world.
On the other hand, you have the subjective (but tangible) element of greatness, of gift. God gives us the desires of our heart. The key here is gift. The joy of God, the salvation of God, the heart of God: it’s all gift. His mercies are new every morning. He refreshes his saints with his presence.
For instance, Columba followed and increased the monk’s regular pattern of prayers, but, when he opened his eyes he saw and spoke with angels.
Practicing the presence
There is practice. There is presence. Brother Lawrence called it practicing the presence. It’s a beautiful assimilation of what it means, practically and supernaturally, to heed the call of God – the call to come away and yet draw near; the call to put our natural inclinations to work for the kingdom of God; the call to spend time and reap eternity.
For some, the call of God is like solving the Rubik’s Cube. For Columba it was a fateful unfolding of a plan that would have far-reaching effects he could not have imagined. For many, it is simply taking the mismatched pieces of life and calling it whole by faith. God promises to complete the work he begins. He alone has counted and paid the cost of such work. Some days it’s three steps forward, and two steps back. There are twists and turns along the way, but always the word of the maker, “It is finished.”
It is this singularity, this clarion quality of the call of God that assures us – it is finished. Here is rest. Tensions ease; contradictions are reconciled. We find solving a puzzle or “figuring it out” is largely about cooperating with the designer, getting to know Him, sharing in His work. There is a desire to say, with Him, “Finished!” In the end, the triumphant smile will be genuine – and a reflection of the master’s joy.
Dayna E. Mazzuca is a journalist based in Edmonton, Alberta. Email: email@example.com.
Originally published in Centered: Journal of Evangelical Spiritual Formation, September 2008.
Used with permission. Copyright © 2008 Christianity.ca.