On the Call of God

Written by Alex Swain, Beloved in the Desert

“I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

First and foremost: A blessed Eastertide to all! Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

In contemplating the call of God, I see two aspects. First, that a call must have voice, therefore God speaks. Second, that creation must respond.

 This pattern plays out throughout Holy Scripture. The act of God speaking and creation responding is elemental, even fundamental, to the weaving of the universe. In the beginning God spoke, and creation blossomed forth. God said, “Let there be light” and there was light. The very creation of the world is a response to God’s voice. Father Rowan Williams, the 104th Archbishop of Canterbury, notes that indeed “calling and creating are closely associated.” Isaiah 55:10-11 declares of the Lord, “so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”

We see, too, that God calls individuals to Him. “Moses, Moses!” God cries out. Moses responds, and a great prophet is raised. We see Ezekiel prophesy in the valley of dry bones, speaking the words the Lord puts in his mouth, and the bones respond! They are assembled rank-in-file, muscles and fibers stitched back together, and finally life is breathed back into them as the word of the Lord fulfills its purpose. We see the tremendous call of God to Jeremiah, who attempts to decline the emphatic voice of God by saying “I do not know how to speak, I am too young.” (Jeremiah 1:6). Yet God is unrelenting, and Jeremiah assents, and another prophet is raised. Jesus Christ, even the very incarnation of God, calls to the apostles and they immediately follow. They leave behind their lives and livelihoods and follow.

God calls, and creation responds.

I think, too, that within the Episcopal Service Corps, this principal yet remains at play. In this year of service, I have undergone (and am currently undergoing, no doubt) numerous and unexpected experiences related to the call of God. That same call wherein the Lord declares “I have called you by name, you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).

I find that, in each step assented and stumbling towards that most Holy voice, I find my self ever more truly found, illumined in the light brought forth by Jesus, ever made more known and whole in assenting to the call of God; it is very good. Again, Father Rowan Williams writes, “To exist really is to exist as responding to God. Each of us is called to be a different kind of response to God, to mirror God in unique ways, to show God what he is like, so to speak, from innumerable new and different standpoints.”

Approximately 12-14ish months ago (read, a seeming lifetime ago), a group of us young adults applied to several of the programs scattered throughout the United States. This act of application was my first response to that call of God. Though at the time I certainly did not have the words to name my submission of an application as a response to God, it certainly was. “Come and see” God decrees as we who applied come to commit to a year of service through faith in Jesus Christ. Whether or not we knew it, unwittingly or with our wits quite right, we were called; and whether or not we acknowledge it, we assented to God’s voice to dedicate a year to serve and grow and live faithfully.

God spoke, and a group of us responded to this particular utterance.

Fast-forward 12-14ish months

We are now in a place that would have been unfathomable, unimaginable, mere months ago. Each week, even, seems to march a bit more desperate, a bit more difficult, a bit more worrisome and unknown. We have been living in intentional community, worshipping God, growing, serving, learning, resting and working for months. And now much of this has been upended, if not stripped away, by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Perhaps we now feel like Elijah on Mount Horeb. We have come and served and responded to a call and ascended a mountain. And now there are great and terrible things, a firestorm, an earthquake, a great tempest! Yet we read, “and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Eli′jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, ‘What are you doing here, Eli′jah?’” (1 Kings 19:12-13)

Let us stop and hear the Voice of God in this moment.

Do you hear it?

How are we responding to that voice of God who asks, in these new and dynamic and strange times, “what are you doing here, O my Child?”

In what new ways are we as a community and individually responding to the call of God?

In this tumultuous time, here in Tucson, Arizona as part of Beloved in the Desert, our ministries have changed. Each and every one of us has been displaced, to some extent, in our primary work, the thing which we “signed up for” months and months ago. Indeed, through our network with our primary churches here (Saint Phillip’s, Saint Andrew’s, Episcopal Campus Ministry) we who are young are stepping up to shop and support those who are alone, elderly, and immunocompromised. We no longer receive the Holy Sacrament of Eucharist each week, though we worship God, in community, through Office and Ante-Communion and receive spiritual communion. We are a community bound tightly and watched over by the church, while simultaneously being somewhat adrift in this time, and in all of it, we respond and are responding, ever more discerning that great call of God.

God is speaking and we are responding.

I suspect this story is one of several as the national ESC programs find themselves in quite precisely similar situations. And yet, God’s call continues, and we are bound to respond. Even amidst these trying times, we declare with the Prophet Jeremiah in our Compline prayers each evening, “Lord, you are in the midst of us and we are called by your Name. Do not forsake us, O Lord our God” (Jeremiah 14:9,22). 

Indeed, the words of the General Thanksgiving render all the more true as we continue serving in new and changed ways. “O Jesus, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you, in holiness and righteousness all our days” (italicized from General Thanksgiving, BCP pg. 101).

God is speaking, and by God’s grace, through prayer, service, and community, we as members of the ESC are responding.