“Blind from looking:” My vocation story moves on ... as you recall I was getting dizzy, trying to decide if I should apply for seminary or not. During long drives while working for the USGS either out on some highway in a desert or on some mountain road, at times I would have to pull over to the side of the road just to regain my senses. It was that confusing to me trying to make up my mind. You might say I had become “blind from looking.”
At some point I was informed that we had a project going on in Alaska and my assignment was to pack up 7 vans of equipment, get them from San Francisco to Seattle, board them on a ship, fly to Alaska ahead of them and then get them off the boat. Within the week, the rest of the research crew would meet me in Anchorage and we would travel to central Alaska to do our work. I thought this might calm my nerves and I would find peace.
I have to say that prayer and work became the only consolation I had in all this heavy thinking and discernment. When I prayed, I just had to pray and not think so much, and when I worked I could just focus on that. One day in Anchorage while I was awaiting the rest of the crew to fly in, I was walking down the street and encountered a “bum” walking with a shopping cart and two huskies tied to the cart and pulling it along. It was an amusing sight! Now, this guy was the cleanest bum I had ever seen, and something about him seemed very different. He was truly happy and enjoyed life! We met on the street near a religious goods store and as he came up to me, his two, very friendly dogs decided to go in two different directions around a street post. It seemed these happy dogs did this on purpose just to amuse themselves. The entanglement was hilarious as this old gentleman kindly and loving chided them for such a thing. “It looks like you could use some help!” I said. “Yes!” he replied. “As a matter of fact, after you help me untangle these critters, I could use $10 for lunch.” “Why not,” so I flipped him a bill. Then this joyful and kind old man said, “You look like you could use a blessing! Here are two rocks too.” So, to my surprise, he gave me two pieces of jade and blessed me right there! Not sure why. Maybe I looked a bit tattered in mind and soul. Anyway, this strange encounter remains impressed upon my mind. I would like to think God provided me with something I needed then.
Once the rest of the crew arrived in Anchorage it was time to head out into the interior and set up a sort of base camp. We chose a place near Galcona Junction where an elderly couple rented trailer houses on the side of the road for travelers. Being the “gopher” I was, I was told to go ahead and unload all our equipment into the various trailers and to put the rest into this old log shed that was sitting off to the side some 100 yards by it’s lonely self on the grounds. That would be a good place to store some of our larger gear. Now this small, log shack was about 15 ft. wide and maybe 30 ft. long. It had a dirt floor with thick, cool walls, no windows, and only one door to go in or out. Inside, there was very little light so, as you walked in, you had to wait for your eyes to adjust before you could venture any further. I quickly unloaded the “stuff” that remained in our vans, but before I finished, I decided to check this old shack out. Why not? I have curiosity for old things and thought I might find some hidden treasure or something that told me about the previous owners. Looking around I saw some junk and worthless antiques, but then I noticed on the far wall that there was a plaque. I decided to check it out. As I said, it was very dark, especially in that corner, so I squinted hard to see. On the plaque, I saw a picture, and on the picture I saw a man dressed in a shabby cloak with a rope tied around his waist. He was standing next to a sea, holding a fishing net in his hands. He was gazing up into the sky as if listening or hearing something. “Ahh….haa!” I thought, this must be St. Peter standing on the shores of a lake and the water behind him must be the Sea of Galilee! Just then I noticed some fine but faded printing on the top of that board, but because it was dark, I took it off the wall and drew it even closer to my eyes. The plaque was so dusty I couldn’t make it out, so I brushed it off with my sleeve and brought it in even closer to my eyes (about three inches from my face) in order to see. And, as I squinted and looked very hard and waited for my eyes to adjust, the words on that plaque became crystal clear. On that plaque it said, “The Master is calling….FOLLOW ME!”
Now, you can imagine with all the confusion and state of mind I was in, with the torment I was experiencing the past days and months and how this affected me! There I was staring at this plaque with those words staring right back, right in front of my face! I gasped and almost lost my breath in shock! My body started to shake, my knees got weak, as I felt God was looking right through me! Startled, I jumped back. My first reaction was to crawl into a hole in the ground and never come out. Crazy enough, I started looking for a place! At the same time I realized that didn’t make much sense. Then I decided I was not going to ever go outside and face the daylight, but then I realized that wasn’t possible either-after all, a guy has to eat! There was no denying it; at that moment I knew I was running away from something. At that very moment God was telling me to make a decision. I also knew (in some mysterious way) that God would not ask me again, that God would respect any choice I made, but that I might also be missing a great opportunity to do something worthwhile in my life. I had to choose and forever hold my peace!
Maybe that is what a vocation is all about. It’s a slow process of handing yourself over to someone (or something) other than yourself, a process of letting go and letting God. It’s a point at which you realize your life is no longer your own, but is governed by another. It’s letting go of most of the controls. For all of us, that comes at different times in our lives. Maybe it’s when a couple gets married and brings that first child home and you realize your life is very different now. Maybe it’s when you are confronted with some hardship or have to care for a sick person or know you will be single the rest of your life or you have a career or job that takes on a life all its own. You have a vocation and that vocation is a call to step out of yourself, to live in a way that is larger than who you are by yourself. I believe it was Janis Joplin who said, “Freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose.” There is freedom in letting go. It would have to be that way for me. When I finally decided to walk out of that shack and into the daylight, I knew that my short-lived career as a geologist was coming to an end, that I would have to tell my boss that by summer’s end I would be leaving for seminary. My life would take on a whole new direction as I was going to apply for seminary and begin a very different life, to see if being a priest is really meant for me. Stay tuned,….the story gets even stranger right along….