A few months ago I attended a retreat that focused on Celtic spirituality. At one point, the retreat leader used a very appealing metaphor – find your own music. He told a story of Irish musicians who, before playing, would quietly listen inwardly “to hear the music.” He challenged us to listen for our own music, and then to play it through our lives. I took this as a metaphor for a calling.
We think of a calling as something we are called to do, as a life mission of sorts. Sometimes we hear people express it as something that comes from beyond ourselves, as in “I was called by God to do . . .” But people also talk of it as something that comes from from deep within us, like our own music for which we need to listen.
The Acorn Principle
James Hillman, the long time director of the Jung Institute in Zurich, used a different metaphor for a similar idea. He spoke of the acorn principle, which is the idea that each of us is born with something inside us that we are meant to become, like an acorn that becomes a particular oak tree. As Hillman put it in The Soul’s Code (Kindle location 143):
…each person bears a uniqueness that asks to be lived and that is already present before it can be lived.
Perhaps we should think of a calling not only as something we are meant to do, but also as something we are meant to become. Action and becoming are intertwined in a sense of call.
Another advantage of Hillman’s acorn is that it reminds us to be patient. Oak trees take a long time to develop and grow. The same is usually true of callings. Most people develop a sense of calling not suddenly, as a flash of insight, but over a considerable period of time, with the trial and error of experience combined with much prayer and reflection.
These are two different metaphors with slightly different implications, but they both speak to the idea of discovering a sense of calling (or finding the deeper meaning of a life) as being mediated through something deep within us. I believe both metaphors reflect the way most people experience their sense of calling. And they both have the additional advantage of leaving the door open for diverse theological explanations.
(More information about your work as a calling is available here)
Hillman, James. (1996). The Soul’s Code: In Search of Character and Calling. New York, NY: Random House (available here).