I don’t know anyone that I know well enough to know, whose life is not like mine, viz. a strange, mysterious twining together of joy and sorrow, happiness and heartache. We are all wounded people living in a wounded world– and yet, and yet, we know glory and wonder too.

What do we do with that in our hearts?

Last weekend I stepped into this reality one more time, as I do day after day and week after week. The deepest love drew me in for every reason that matters most. But written into the weekend was the greatest sorrow too. It was, it is, and it will be sad.

Thinking about vocation as I do, I could only place myself within the richness and complexity of that vision of life, one where vocation makes sense of who we are and what we do, of what we believe and how we live. At the core of my being I am called to imitate the vocation of God, to know the world and to still love the world.

But what is true of God will be true of me too. Woven into the vocation of God is “the most remarkable joy and the most remarkable sorrow,” as N.T. Wright has written. When I first read those words I remember thinking that that was a true truth, one that could make sense of my life. The universes next door don’t do very well here. For example, Buddhism argues that good and evil, in the end, are the same thing. It is only “maya” that makes us think otherwise. But my heart protests, deeply so. I can’t do that with either the glory or ruin that I see, as both are too real, and they are not illusions.

An image I kept in my heart all weekend was from Wendell Berry’s story, “Thicker Than Liquor.” One of his best, it involves Wheeler Catlett as a young man, and his wayward Uncle Peach. There is wonderful nuance and range to even the short story that it is, but to cut to the chase: Uncle Peach is a drunk, and has gotten drunk one more time. Because of his love for his mother, Wheeler goes to bring his uncle home. Finally putting him to bed, Wheeler sees that Uncle Peach is not going to sleep well that night, so full of the demons of his drunkenness as he is, tossing and turning, groaning and moaning through the hours of the night.

So Wheeler gets into bed with him, placing his hand on his uncle’s shoulder, giving him comfort in his distress– knowing it is not a final cure for the troubles that are his uncle’s and the family’s, but for that moment it is what is his to do.

Flying home on Monday morning, I sighed. The weekend was full of both joy and sorrow, as is true of everyone’s days and weeks. I had the strong sense that it was a good gift to step into the happiness of the weekend, true and real as it was, knowing that I was also, like Wheeler, getting into bed and placing my hand on the wound that was, is and will be.

That is vocation at its truest, always and everywhere– even offered with clay feet, as our vocations will be in this wounded world.

Steven Garber is the Senior Fellow for Vocation and the Common Good for the M. J. Murdock Charitable Trust. A teacher of many people in many places, he continues to serve as a consultant to colleges and corporations, facilitating both individual and institutional vocation. A husband, a father and a grandfather, a he has long lived in Washington DC, living a life among family, friends, and flowers.

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