Sacraments always…give us the grace to understand that the universe is coherent, that things seen and unseen are equally real, equally true. And they allow us to understand that the most ordinary elements of life can be made holy – even our learning, even our labor, even our love.
When we see all of life as sacramental, as the graceful twining together of heaven and earth, then we begin to understand the meaning of vocation…(21, EPUB ebook)
So writes Steven Garber in his most recent book, Visions of Vocation. In his book, the reader is taken on a tour of vocations, from the moving account of French farmers who hid persecuted Jews in Le Chambon, France to the cynical way of viewing the world captured in Le Carré’s novels. Garber begins the book in the first couple chapters by asking the questions, “Can you know the world and still love it” and “Knowing what you know about the world, what are you going to do about it?”
Then, in chapter 3 he examines two ways in which Western society discourages our ability to know the world in all it’s pain and still love it. The first way is the result of the information overload that surrounds us, numbing us to the pain. The second way results from the effects of postmodernism and a relativistic culture that shrugs its shoulders and says, in effect, “Whatever”. Thankfully, Steven Garber is not content with mere diagnosis as too many Christians are, critiquing society but failing to relate the good news of the Gospel. I won’t go into detail as that would defeat the purpose of reading the book, but chapter 4 begins his response. I will say that it involves a closer look at the role of covenant in the Old Testament.
There are already many books on calling and vocation that emphasize the biblical narrative hermeneutic structure of Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Sanctification/Glorification (and Steven Garber does touch on these), but he also zooms in on the way in which redemption is expressed in the Old Testament. Such redemption is expressed as God establishes a covenant relationship with the people of Israel. Even here, though, the reader does not need to have a degree in theology to follow his point as Garber’s approach is story-based, examining specific instances in Scripture. Later on in the book, Garber returns to the problems of an “info-glut” and “whatever” society to state how we are tempted to turn away from our vocations by responding with stoicism and/or cynicism, perennial temptations that can be traced to the Greeks.
My only complaint with the book is that there were parts of the book that seemed repetitive. Part of that was to provide emphasis, but it also made it seem that I was reading lectures that had been converted into book chapters and then which referenced each other. That may not be the case, but that was the feeling I had as I read it. Still, it did not detract from the fact that our vocations can be ways of living sacramentally, of being the conduit and means by which God provides grace in small ways to the world around us.
Finally, while there is an overarching theme and logic to the book, the best part about it is it’s use of stories to make points. In that sense it reminded me of Amy Sherman’s Kingdom Calling as both books rely on real-life examples to make their points. But whereas Sherman’s book was motivational, causing me to adopt a “can-do” attitude and a desire to make a difference in the world, I would describe this one as inspirational. It helped me to see the “differences and the difference they make”, to quote one of the book’s sub-headings. And whether one is reading about the stories of French novelist Victor Hugo or the real-life example Czech playwright and politician Vàclav Havel, whether the stories are fact or fictional, I think any reader will come away seeing the question of calling and vocation in a fresh light, as I know I certainly did. I hope that all who read this book would come to the deeper realization that “the most ordinary elements of life can be made holy – even our learning, even our labor, even our love.”