I grew up on the story of Samuel from the Bible. It was one of my favorites. In the middle of the night, a young Samuel, who serves in the temple, wakes to a voice calling his name. He runs to the priest, Eli, a total of three times, saying, “Here I am; you called me.” The priest denies having called and tells the boy to go back to sleep. The scripture says that in those days the word of God was rare and there were not many visions. However, the third time the boy wakes to the voice and comes running, the priest realizes that the boy is hearing the voice of God and tells him, “Go and lie down and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.'”
I have long since abandoned a literal understanding or interpretation of these ancient texts and myths – a myriad of similar stories that arose out of many civilizations to make sense of the natural world, explain our presence on the planet, and to aid humankind’s scientific progress and evolution towards self-awareness. But I always have and always will resonate with the concept of a divine calling. I felt it strongly at an age as young as Samuel’s, before I had the knowledge or vocabulary to put a name to it. I didn’t know what it was but I knew I wanted it and that it wanted me.
Ki Longfellow, who writes about Gnosis – the direct experience of the divine – says, “What comes, is called.” We are called by the thing we call. What we are seeking is seeking us. Consciousness becomes conscious of itself through our physical, neurological and spiritual experiences.
In modern times, what does it mean to have a calling? Does everyone have a calling or only the chosen few? How do you know if you are called and what you are called to? Who or what is doing the calling? And how can you hear the voice when there is so much noise?
I believe everyone does have a calling whether they know it or not. I believe that everything we need to know, we already know, and that our life’s circumstances serve to help us remember what that is. In fact, I believe that we share one calling as a whole – and that calling is to wake up.
After Samuel hears and speaks to God, he’s given some wrathful messages for the priest. Ancient mythology (and present-day mythology too) often tried to make sense of the chaos, randomness and harshness of life with stories of pleasing or displeasing the gods or a God who would then visit their/his bounty or vengeance upon the flawed and suffering humans. How else to make sense of poverty, famine, disease or untimely death? How else to make sense of it now?
I suggest that the wrath visited upon Eli’s family – as conveyed from God through Samuel – is not the real point of the story. The point is that Samuel was asleep. He was called three times and each time he was told to dismiss the voice and go back to sleep. But on the third time, some awareness was achieved; Samuel awakened and stayed awake. The scripture says that the Lord was with Samuel as he grew up and let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. Once you wake up for good, you cannot fall back asleep.
So what does that mean in practical terms in the year 2012? What does that mean for me as an artist? Well, what it looks like for me is that everything I am and do is spurred by this inner voice that is whispering to me through a haze of dreams to wake up. It means getting quiet and still so I can hear it. It means looking at the world and at other people through the lens of a desire for awakening. It means having the guts to walk a path that is headed towards waking up when it would be so much easier to stay asleep and dream of easier choices. Sometimes it’s really lonely. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense to anyone observing from the outside. Sometimes it seems impractical or selfish or silly. Sometimes I’m scared that it’s leading to a place of no return. And it is.
I don’t know what it means to want a traditional life or to be satisfied with the traditional joys. Waking up can happen anywhere, to anyone, at any time. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do or whether you hear your calling or not. It’s still happening to all of us, all the time. The question is, how long will it take? And because of that question and because I want to wake up so badly, I find it difficult to sustain interest in anything but that call. I want to serve it as it serves me. I want to follow it. I want to translate it through Art, which is the vehicle that was given to me. I don’t want to get side-tracked or miss it or delay answering it any longer than I already have.
Look, I don’t know what waking up truly means because I’m still half-asleep. These are merely the musings of a warm spring day after some tough late-night conversations. But despite uncertain circumstances, and the sadness that comes along with that, I can still hear and feel the thrill of the call. And I think that’s worth talking about.