Students: Pursue True Vocation, Not Just a Job

Post a Comment » Written on April 17th, 2006     
Filed under: News
By Stan Friedman

CHICAGO, IL (April 17, 2006) – When Kathleen Norris saw the World Trade Center towers collapse and bury so many lives, she turned to the Bible to cope with the unimaginable.

“When I saw the images on my television screen, the first things I thought of were the words of the prophet Jeremiah sort of speaking to me over the distance of some 3,000 years: “A voice is heard in Ramah weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children because they are no more.” (Jeremiah 31:15)

Kathleen Norris The best-selling author of Dakota, Amazing Grace, and The Cloister Walk, told an audience at North Park University recently that there were other scriptures that came to mind as well:

  • “How lonely sits the city that once was full of people! How like the widow she has become, she that was great among nations.” (Lamentations 1:1)
  • “They have defiled your temple, they have laid Jerusalem in ruins. They have given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food, the flesh of your faithful to the wild animals of the earth. They have poured out their blood like water all around Jerusalem.” (Psalm 79: 1-3)

“In those timeless words of grief, I managed to find some measure of consolation,” she explains. “I think my education proved its worth on September 11 and in the days that followed, providing me with resources I was very grateful to have.”

That education also included the liberal arts, which she said is essential to forming character and relating imaginatively to the world. She says it was the words of the poet William Blake that came to mind when she heard the interviews with firefighters and police officers: “For mercy has a human heart, pity a human face.” (A Divine Image: A Song of Innocence.)

Norris told her audience that she hopes students and their parents will recognize the value of a liberal arts education at a time when so many are beginning to view college as preparation for a well-mapped career. “College is preparation for life, not just a job,” she exhorted, “helping people to find not just what they want to do, not just what they want to be. We must find our true vocation.

“I think our culture has a great deal of difficulty focusing on what is important and I think that colleges may be a place where we can remedy of some of that,” Norris continued. “College is a time of formation, a time when we shape the rest of our lives or start to.”

Such an education has become increasingly important in a time “when increasingly in our culture, we’re asked to choose information over knowledge and material well-being over spiritual striving. We’re always trying to balance self-fulfillment and service to others.”

The author encouraged the audience to nurture “a love for learning and a desire for God,” adding, “literature is a response to the wonder.”

“Well the point of all this is to demonstrate that literature does not reside in textbooks,” Norris said. “It is not offered to you so that you can accumulate knowledge or answer questions on a quiz. Writers, I assure you, don’t bother with the struggle of writing to torment you or bore you or to get you an A,” she continued as the audience laughed. “Literature exists to help you gain wisdom and live your life to the fullest.”

Norris was speaking as part of the campus theme program that has been focusing this year on the question: “What is a life of significance?” She related the crucial moment in her life when her boss told her, “You know I’d be disappointed in you if you were still in this job 10 years from now.” That was a mentor speaking, she observed. “That was all she said, but it was like an earthquake in my life. It really shook me up.”

For Norris, once she dared to ask what was next, she realized small changes might lead to larger ones. Now, she says, her job as a writer – as well as the vocation of everyone – is to get in on what God is doing.

Students need stable relationships and must remain restless if they are to experience the wonder and find their vocation, she suggests. “If you think you’ve figured it all out, it’s a sure sign that you’re stagnating,” she opined. She recalled the words of famous mathematician A.G. Reman: “I did not invent those pairs of differential equations; I found them in the world where God had hidden them.”

Norris noted that the search will take discipline and time, especially in a world where the wonders are sometimes hidden and the suffering all too apparent. “Jeremiah’s journey is our own,” she said, “filled with sorrow, boredom, emotion – but we also know hope and try to hang on to it.”

Norris was also a special guest during a reception honoring several individuals as part of the “Lives of Significance” theme. To read about the reception and learn the names of those honored, please see ‘Lives of Significance’

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