Monday, July 18, 2011

Thanks, Calvin!

Yesterday I read this post which helped me get into a better frame of mind for the coming week. Especially this excerpt from Calvin's commentary on Luke:

It is an error to think that those who flee worldly affairs and engage in contemplation are leading an angelic life. . . We know that men were created to busy themselves with labor and that no sacrifice is more pleasing to God than when each one attends to his calling and studies well to live for the common good.

What's really fascinating here is that I'm pretty sure Calvin is responding to the popular medieval interpretation that upheld Mary as the model of the "contemplative life," what Jesus refers to as the "good portion," and Martha as the model of the "active life." I am terribly curious to look at the Calvin quote in context and to see if he is building an argument about the godliness of the ordinary "worldly" vocation over against the traditional Catholic elevation of the consecrated religious life. Fodder for a future blog post, maybe???

Anyway, back to how the quotation helped me: in light of my despondency last week, it's a great comfort to reflect that my labor (even mine!) is a work for which God created me. And that even (or especially) when it's a sacrifice, the discipline with which I attend to my calling pleases God. Calvin also says that God is pleased when His laborer "studies well to live for the common good." Isn't that a neat expression?

It's led me to think about the self-indulgent ways I sometimes envision my work. I don't even mean consciously self-indulgent, all the time. But I hear myself speaking of my studies as "tedious" or "wearisome" often, and while that's just a fact of life, I wonder if it is also because I take for granted that my work is primarily about what happens inside my own head. Maybe you're thinking, "Well, duh. She's an academic!" Obviously, it has a lot to do with the activity inside my head!

On the other hand, though -- how often do I reflect on how my work involves "[studying] well to live for the common good"? That the way I pursue my calling, in order to please God, must redound to the good, not just of my family, my department, or my field, but to the good of the church, of the Kingdom? Beyond sentimentalizing or merely paying lip service, how could that really change the way I approach what I do in my little basement carrel on a daily basis?

Created to be busy, to labor, to sacrifice, and so to please God. Wow!

I think there is a lot more that could be said here. I think it can well apply to all Christians, but maybe I should think more about how the life of the academic (specifically the student of theology?) has both "Mary" and "Martha" aspects... Another blog post in the pipeline?! :)

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