The Thing You Can’t Not Do

Some days are just an embarrassment of riches. Yesterday was one of them. At Weekly Manna, our speaker was Rev. Nancy Brantingham, Associate Rector at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Edina. Following that was the second part of the two-part program I organized on Interpreting the Bible and Ascertaining Religious Law, which today included a dialogue among Rabbi Norman Cohen (our presenter at the first part of the program two weeks ago), Fr. Dan Griffith, Mark Osler and me.

I’ll doubtless have something to say about the second of those in the coming days, but a few words about Nancy’s talk, which was on the subject of discerning vocation, a subject about which I’ve spoken and written quite a bit.

Nancy said many things about vocation that resonated with me (and used some of the same quotes I use when talking about vocation). But what I really loved was one simple statement she made: One’s vocation is that thing that one can’t not do.

The first thing that came to my mind when she said that was my daughter, Elena, and her singing. When she was in high school and singing with the Minnetonka Chamber Choir, the director once observed that the girls in the choir sing because they can’t not sing. When Elena told me about a particular piece of music she will be singing in a recital toward the end of this school term, she said it wasn’t one that she was originally assigned to do by her voice teacher. But she asked him to play it for her anyway and when he did, her immediate reaction was, I MUST sing this song. As she explains, when she hears a piece of music that touches her like that, she feels she has to sing it.

There are many thing my daughter can do…and do well. She writes. She plays piano. She is a go player, a taekwando black belt, etc. But she can also not do many of the things she is capable of doing well – and still be who she is.

However, she can’t not sing. She couldn’t not sing and still be fully who she is.

If you can picture in yourself or someone else what I can see in the relationship between my daughter and her singing, you can understand that vocation is not just one among many things we could be doing…something we fall into because it is convenient. Vocation is an expression of our deepest self. It is that which we can’t not do.