Friday, December 24, 2010

Shemot and Thoughts on Being Called

This week, a new documentary titled,The Calling, executive produced and directed by Camp Ramah in Wisconsin alumnus, Danny Alpert, aired on PBS over two nights.  This powerful and inspiring film follows: young, vibrant, thoughtful and vastly different Americans as they embark on the most extraordinary journey of their lives. Representing Jewish, Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant faiths,  each is ignited by the "call" to serve humanity and has decided to join the clergy. The Calling ...follows them from their first days of training, through years of challenges, doubts, triumphs and surprises, and into their early practice as ordained professionals. (The Calling provides an) ...intimate look behind cloistered seminary walls and into the hearts of future religious leaders provides a rich, nuanced portrayal of faith never before seen on national television.
From The Calling Website

As the website points out, the word “Calling” is derived from the Latin term, vocare, “to call.”  But the translation leaves open one very clear question: from where does the call originate?  Does it come from the outside, from some external source, voice, being? Or does it come from within, either placed there by someone, something, or The One from the outside, or is it sitting inside quietly waiting for the moment to make itself known?  Is this a religious experience?  Can it be a secular experience?  And what do people do when they experience being called?

The filmmakers created a companion website for The Calling that is extraordinary in many ways.  At , you can view segments of the documentary and follow-up pieces by theme, by which are most popular, or by the speaker it features.  After viewing clips, you are invited to join the conversation by sharing your thoughts either on the response of the person in the clip or in answer to the question or challenge raised in the clip.  The creators of The Calling want to include you in the discussion and in the pursuit of hearing your own calling.

One of the companion pieces on the website consists of students from Auburn Theological Seminary answering the question: “What do you think of when you hear the term “Calling”?  The answers range from “Something you just can’t get away from” to “...knowing what I am supposed to do”  to “...something that is really inside even though it sounds like it should be from the outside - a really small voice” to “...some larger, external force” to “predetermination.”  In other words, and as noted above, a calling can be an internal knowing, whose origins are unclear, to a grand voice calling out and telling you what you have to do.  It can be a strong sense of purpose to change the world in a specific way or it can be the knowledge that God expects something specific of you in this world.  There is no consensus among the students at Auburn; rather, they reflect the full gamut of understandings of the term “Calling.”

The move from the Creation Stories and the early origins of the world in general to the specific creation story of the Jewish people comes in the form of a Divine Call to Abraham - לך לך - Go forth.  The Book of Exodus also opens with a “Calling”, the call from God to Moshe at the bush on Mt. Sinai.  In film and in literature, both Jewish and not, the Calling is portrayed both as a commanding outside voice or a demanding interior one.  It is described as the Grand Divine Instructor, the Cecille B. DeMille voice speaking to Charlton Heston, clearly telling Moses from outside himself what he is to do and how he is to do it.  Similarly, it is painted as the quiet voice so similar to his own, emanating from within while appearing to originate from the bush, as in this case the that of Val Kilmer who plays both The Divine Voice and the voice of Moses in The Prince of Egypt.  

We know from tradition and experience that “Callings” can be frightening.  Moses demurs by raising doubts as to whether or not the Israelites will listen to him, let alone Pharaoh.  Jonah flees, running to a boat to take him far away.  Yet neither is able to escape the mission which they know they must complete.  It is not uncommon for people to know deep within their souls that there is something that they are supposed to do, something that will change the world and themselves, and to know let it go un-acted upon for years.  Some will know it forever and fear failure or success and thus refuse to act on it.  Others, however, follow the calling to places they cannot imagine and touch lives, change lives, and transform worlds in the most Divine ways.

This week, the Torah reminds us of the call to Moses, the call to bring freedom to the oppressed; to bring law to the lawless; and to bring redemption to the captive.  This week, Danny Alpert and The Calling push us to confront our own souls, to listen to the still small voice that comes from within or that emerges from an encounter with another, and to go and change the world.  If you have not yet watched it, take time to view The Calling which is now available from PBS and at The iTunes Store, visit the website, , explore there, listen to the voices of others, join the conversation.  And then focus on your calling and go, get started.

Yasher Koah to Danny Alpert and the entire team of “The Calling.”  

Shabbat Shalom.

This post also appears on the blog of Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.

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