Jamie Smith explores these three verbs in his chapter “You Make What You Want: Vocational Liturgies.”
Image Unfold Occupy
Smith understands each as a doing. First, we are called to image God so that image is a task or mission rather than a characteristic. Secondly, we are called to unfold creation’s potential. This is our task as image bearers. Lastly, we are called to occupy creation; to be a faithful presence, people who occupy creation and remind the world that we belong to God.
Smith argues that we are called to “image God” and that ruling and caring for creation includes “cultivating it, unfolding and unfurling its latent possibilities through human making.” Maybe we begin by imagining or glimpsing God’s imagination regarding how we might unfold and unfurl possibility in our own lives.
For me, coming to this new place and position did unfold over time or maybe even was imagined in unacknowledged ways all my life. Was the process culminated in landing here in this job and place after all that struggle to find the “right one” or was it a mutual finding?
I think of how this place is bits and pieces of things I imagined as the “good and perfect life” over the years without actually knowing or consciously searching for this kind of place.
All my life I have been drawn to these mountains. As a child my dad was from a different part of Eastern Tennessee and we visited the Smokey Mountains often. My husband and I met in these mountains and have longed to return. Volunteering in Eastern Kentucky, vacationing in Western Carolina and North Georgia, and visiting friends in Western Virginia have fueled those longings. The low clouds hovering in the mountains, the cold mountain streams and the embracing presence of tall trees; however imagined, actually living here was a continuously visited possibility. And now I look out each morning on the Holston Mountain Range and walk up steep inclines to enter my office that looks out on a similar vista. The Appalachian people I read about are my next-door neighbors, people I go to church alongside, and colleagues and people whom I am honored to learn from and teach. Virginia is a few streets away and Western North Carolina an hour’s drive in more than one direction.
At my daughter’s graduation from Hanover College—a place with many similarities to King—I remember a visceral tug as I watched the faculty in full regalia lead the graduates through the crowd. Those robed people represented the pinnacle of my love of thinking and knowing in a tangible way. Maybe it was a longing I didn’t even know about then—that was before I even considered a Ph.D. as a wild and crazy thing to consider. Now here I am in a similar school where that same practice happens multiple times a year. I was the robed one on a recent August morning as we, the faculty, in all colors of regalia, filed into the chapel behind a bagpiper for opening convocation where an honorary degree was being conferred.
Finding out that this place existed is filled with synchronicity. The Buechner connections: learning about the Faith and Culture center’s lectures (formerly the Buechner Center), imagining what it would be like to be able to be in such a community, listening to student lecturers who drew from Buechner’s writing to make sense of their own lives. Finding this University as an aside to finding the Buechner Writing Workshop at Princeton led me to consider a faith based community as a place to teach, without even realizing what I was imaging. Even though I felt like a fish out of water in connection with the other workshop participants, many of them clergy, I realized how much the corporate worship in a community of scholars fed my soul. The chapel at Princeton is in a circle of buildings with a large grassy area in the middle where I sat or stood each day imagining this as a place of wonder and creative thinking and spiritual rest. Not even considering that I might actively look for a “Christian” or faith-based institution, I wondered how and perhaps longed for faith and scholarship to be whole in me—a “hidden wholeness” as Parker Palmer calls it. Remembering the Princeton Chapel and grounds, I see the King Chapel and oval as a lived fulfillment of my imagining.
A few weeks spent tutoring adults at a GED center in Eastern Kentucky for the Christian Appalachian Project were in the same summer I attended my first spiritual formation retreat in Indiana and went to digital storytelling camp in Colorado. These were formative events that led me surreptitiously to my dissertation work and now I am occupying this place as remnants of storytelling, teaching, and formation continue to be part of what I do in new ways.
Perhaps that is at the essence of what Jamie Smith says about being called to unfold creation’s potential. Being attentive to how our desires, our work, become aligned with God’s desires.