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Stringfellow on Vocation

stringfellowBen has posted a quotation from William Stringfellow that is just too good not to reproduce here. This reminds me of how much I love Stringfellow’s work and life story, and hopefully will impel me to take up reading him more regularly again.

“I had elected then [in my early student years] to pursue no career. To put it theologically, I died to the idea of career and to the whole typical array of mundane calculations, grandiose goals and appropriate schemes to reach them…. I do not say this haughtily; this was an aspect of my conversion to the gospel….

“[Later] my renunciation of ambition in favor of vocation became resolute; I suppose some would think, eccentric. When I began law studies, I consider that I had few, if any, romantic illusions about becoming a lawyer, and I most certainly did not indulge any fantasies that God had called me, by some specific instruction, to be an attorney or, for that matter, to be a member of any profession or any occupation. I had come to understand the meaning of vocation more simply and quite differently.

“I believed then, as I do now, that I am called in the Word of God … to the vocation of being human, nothing more and nothing less…. Within the scope of the calling to be merely but truly human, any work, including that of any profession, can be rendered a sacrament of that vocation. On the other hand, no profession, discipline or employment, as such, is a vocation.”

—William Stringfellow, A Keeper of the Word: Selected Writings of William Stringfellow (Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 30-31.

This strikes a particular chord with me in regard to the issue of vocation as it bears on my own life. I remember clearly (because it was not too long ago!) the agony of learning to die to certain aspirations of career, status, and prestige. Not that I mean to commend my own path as exemplary–everything about my life-form I owe to the gifts I have been given through my church. But, I am certain that these sorts of ruminations on vocation are exactly what our culture, a culture of almost unquestioned prioritzing of carerr over all other ties, needs.


  1. Darren wrote:

    I recently ordered some of his work. When I heard about him being a lawyer-theologian in the way he was I couldn’t wait to read him, since that is what I am studying myself . This quote reminds me of how easily it is for ambition to sneak in, especially in the law school culture, but also in the seminarian, ministry-career-preparing world.

    Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 12:37 pm | Permalink
  2. Hill wrote:

    Thanks for posting this.

    Thursday, December 4, 2008 at 2:10 pm | Permalink
  3. Liam wrote:

    I really appreciate these thoughts on the idea of calling but I wondered about this last phrase, or at least the way I read the phrase:

    “any work, including that of any profession, can be rendered a sacrament of that vocation.”

    any work? really? I think making professions a neutral canvas can lead us to the moral seperatism that allows for vast displays of inconsistency and hypocrisy within the history of the Church.

    Friday, December 5, 2008 at 1:23 am | Permalink
  4. stephencrose wrote:

    Good sense. I was involved with folk from that East Harlem core group and visited Bill toward the end of his life when he was living on Block Island. I think he stands out as prophetic more now than he did then.

    Friday, December 5, 2008 at 11:51 am | Permalink
  5. Nate Kerr wrote:

    Where might I read more about the history of this East Harlem core group? Is there some biographical and historical stuff on this by Stringfellow himself? Perhaps a book?

    Friday, December 5, 2008 at 8:54 pm | Permalink
  6. Star Nobel wrote:

    Indeed, the Christian vocation seems to be a reckless abandonment of any security or control…

    part of a poem by Rumi:

    Since I was cut from the reedbed,
    I have made this crying sound.
    Anyone apart from someone he loves
    understands what I say.
    Anyone pulled from a source
    longs to go back.

    Sunday, December 7, 2008 at 10:08 pm | Permalink

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