They said of Abba Pambo that as he was dying, at the very hour of his death, he said to the holy men who were standing near him, “Since I came to this place of the desert and built my cell and dwelt here, I do not remember having eaten bread which was not the fruit of my hands and I have not repented of a word I have said up to the present time; and yet I am going to God as one who has not yet begun to serve him.”
Some thirty years ago or so, I recall reading in No Man is an Island by Thomas Merton that some people never find their vocation or, rather, that "their paradoxical vocation is to go through life guessing wrong."
It had the effect of having a mirror held up to me.
Through the decades, as I've not ever really had what you would call a "career" but a series of jobs that has more or less sustained my existence, this has come back to me like a haunting.
Not that there haven't been some frayed thread of connection throughout my life. Theology and/or the arts have been there every step of the way. Sometimes one held more sway over my attention, at other times the other, but no conventional career in either ever took hold in my life.
Still, I have contended that my vocation swirls in the waters where these two rivers cross. Perhaps like two rivers meeting, the waters not only swirl, but get murky and muddy. Even more, I have contended that I am following God's calling on my life, even when I have failed terribly, even when some have told me point blank that it was not my calling.
Here in my middle ages, I'm not sure what I should think or say about all that. It's a tricky, iffy place to argue that failures (and some successes) are somehow within your vocational fulfillment. I puzzle over them, hold them up to God in prayer as some kind of burnt (or burned out) offering, and carry on as best I can.
This is all rather beside the point, however. Or at least beside the point I'm meandering toward just this moment.
The above saying from the Desert Fathers, about Abba Pambo's death, came up in my daily readings and it also has the effect of a mirror held up to me.
I'm not on my death bed (that I now of!) but I think I get what Pambo was getting at.
We're always at the beginning of serving God.
At the end of our lives, what will we have ever completed? What will we have done in service to God that God couldn't have completed any other way?
This is not self-doubt or self-flagellation or self-pity or self-anything other than a recognition that even someone like Abba Pambo, who lived a disciplined life that his contemporaries called holy might cultivate an attitude of humility so that they understand all their work is naught before the grace of God.
I've had some little successes over the years---I joke that some day they'll finally add up and I'll be an overnight success!---but however I want to frame them within the larger understanding of serving God . . . it's true, I've not really begun.
And if Pambo never got started, it may be that I never really will, either.
So is this license to give up? To chuck whatever meandering, second-guessing vocational quest I'm on and watch more TV?
I don't think so. I'm going to say that this life of guessing wrongly (or simply never settling on any one guess) is somehow, somewhere doing something for the Reign of God. In the midst of the swirling, muddy waters of my intersecting interests, I hope to cultivate some little humility. Certainly, I've not always done so.
Speaking of swirling around in muddy waters, I feel this blog post is not very clear. I think that's okay.
Really, the point is that today and tomorrow and the next day---I will begin to serve God.
I will always be beginning to serve God.