Courage for our calling

Scripture: Isaiah 6:1-8

Isaiah and the Call

In the beginning of this story filled with visions, incense, and fantastical creatures, the hero, young Isaiah, is quite scared. There is war and conflict all around him. Isaiah retreats to the only place where he can find comfort and a feeling of security—the Temple in the heart of Jerusalem.

When he steps upon that threshold for a time of worship, he finds himself in the Holy of Holies, the most sacred placeA really, super holy place.   Isaiah is surrounded by the meeting of heaven and earth.  Smoke from incense fills the sanctuary.  God’s very presence fills the room like a flowing, white robe. Mysterious six-winged creatures called seraphs begin chanting, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;  the whole earth is full of his glory.”  More smoke billows about the sanctuary.

Isaiah is even more scared. He was just going to find a little refuge, and now he’s being confronted with the very presence of God and God’s messengers. God’s presence doesn’t always feel peaceful and beautiful. No wonder he says, “Woe is me!”  He fears for his life.  In Jewish thought, most people don’t look upon God and live.  He cries.  He doesn’t feel prepared for such an encounter. He’s struggling to understand what all this means.

Then a seraph flies to him and places a coal on his lips.  Seraphs supposedly looked a little like snakes. A strange winged cobra figure holding a coal to your lips might inspire some fear.  Into this fear, God calls him, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”

We don’t know how long Isaiah paused before responding.  God was inviting him into a new life, a new way of being.  That’s not easy. This takes courage. We don’t know if he moved rather quickly. We don’t know how many breaths he took.   Before he took a breath to say, “Here am I; send me!”

What courage!  Isaiah opened to God’s presence, and from that, he responded to God’s call on his life. His courage in not letting fear stop him from his calling meant that just maybe, instead of destruction—he might be used as a prophet by God to love and save his people. A true act of courage is always an act of love. (Paulo Coehlo)

Courage for our calling

How can we respond like Isaiah?  How can we open to God’s presence, even if we are scared? How can we have the courage to accept God’s call on us?   Courage in the calling is not the absence of fear—it is our ability to act in the presence of fear toward love. St. Thomas Aquinas of the 11thcentury, working off of ethics of Aristotle, said that courage names the ability to endure all for the sake of what is loved.  Courage helps us to persevere through fear and hardship for what we love. We take coals on our lips as we receive our calling, so that we may love others with God’s love.  A true act of courage is always an act of love.

Isaiah’s courageous response to his calling helped him to grow into his true self. As Frederick Buechner indicates, our deepest calling, our response to God’s question of “who will go for me”, is to be our true, authentic self. By living into our true self, we find joy and our path of service in the world. Vocation is really about growing into our true self in full participation with the One, which is God.  When we have the courage to say “yes” to being our true self so that we might love, we say with Isaiah (often after taking several deep breaths) “here am I, Lord.  Send me.”

Works used:

Frederick Buechner, Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC (HarperSanFrancisco: 1993), 119.

Richard Rohr, “Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation: Who Am I” Center for Action and Contemplation, May 28, 2018.

Yoga Practice

Such an emphasis on courage requires a courageous practice.  We will do a series of sun salutations and standing poses to generate heat and fire to build our courage.  The peak pose will be hanumanasana, a pose that resembles courage.  This pose of a split invites us to stretch from our already to our not yet, from our past to our future, from our fear to our courage, and from our courage into our true vocation.


(taken from Yoga Journal,

Step 1

Kneel on the floor. Step your right foot forward about a foot in front of your left knee, and rotate your right thigh outwardly. Do this by lifting the inner sole away from the floor and resting the foot on the outer heel.

Step 2

Exhale and lean your torso forward, pressing your fingertips to the floor. Slowly slide your left knee back, straightening the knee and at the same time descending the right thigh toward the floor. Stop straightening the back knee just before you reach the limit of your stretch.

Now begin to push the right heel away from your torso. Because we started with a strong external rotation of the front leg, gradually turn the leg inward as it straightens to bring the kneecap toward the ceiling. As the front leg straightens, resume pressing the left knee back, and carefully descend the front of the left thigh and the back of the right leg (and the base of the pelvis) to the floor. Make sure the center of the right knee points directly up toward the ceiling.

Step 4

Also check to see that the back leg extends straight out of the hip (and isn’t angled out to the side), and that the center of the back kneecap is pressing directly on the floor. Keep the front leg active by extending through the heel and lifting the ball of the foot toward the ceiling. Bring the hands into Anjali Mudra (Salutation Seal) or stretch the arms straight up toward the ceiling.

Step 5

Stay in this pose for 30 seconds to a minute. To come out, press your hands to the floor, turn the front leg out slightly, and slowly return the front heel and the back knee to their starting positions. Then reverse the legs and repeat for the same length of time.

Called to Joy

Scripture: Mark 1: 16-20

What is your calling? Many of us might respond to this question with what we are dong vocationally, or what we dream of doing as a job someday.  We often associate “calling” with our life’s work.

Jesus uses it a different way in our story today.  In verse 20 Jesus calls brothers James and John to him. The Greek word attributed to Jesus is kalew.  It means to call or summon in the literal sense, as in, “Son, come here. You’ve got to get your homework done”—that kind of call.  Kalew also retains a deeper meaning though, in Greek.  It can mean the giving of an attribution to someone, also translated to mean “giving a name.”  What Jesus did to those fishermen by calling them to follow him was to give them a new name—disciple.  This calling, this naming, changed the trajectory of the rest of their lives.  Peter, Andrew, James, and John stepped into a new life story when they decided to follow Jesus.  Jesus named them, and they couldn’t resist the loving power behind such an adoption.  Fishing nets drop from their fingers.  They step out of the boat, mud gushes between their toes, and they turn to follow the one who named them.

How then, do we follow Christ?  How do we follow in the footsteps of the disciples—who had as much or more than we have to lose by dropping their nets–and live into the name of “disciple?” Our own nets of obligations, commitments, and just plain stuff entangle us; we drag our feet in following because we think we might need some of that old baggage on our new journey with Jesus.[1]  How do we live into his call, his naming of us?

The founder of Methodism and one of my own spiritual fathers, John Wesley, teaches that the call to follow Jesus can happen in a moment on a lakeshore, but more likely is to be the work of a lifetime.  A distinctive mark of the Wesleyan heritage is the understanding of life as a spiritual pilgrimage deep into the heart of God.[2]  For Wesley, the life of faith consisted both of significant “lakeshore moments” in which we offer our lives to Christ—moments of justification—AND daily ongoing times of commitment—moments of sanctification.  Wesley understood his following of Christ best as a journey of a lifetime that he committed to walk daily.  Wesley wrote in one of his letters on the kalew, the calling of Christ on our lives.  He stated “the hope of our calling [is] to know that our hope is sincerity, not perfection; not to do well, but to do our best.”[3  As Wesley understood calling, the attempt to “drop the nets” and live into the name of “disciple” is  both lifelong, and a daily commitment to do our best—such a following of the call ultimately brings great gladness.

The well-known pastor and episcopal priest, Barbara Brown Tayor, writes of a time in her life when she was struggling mightily with how Christ might be calling her.  She simply didn’t know what she was to do and be.  So one midnight, in great frustration and exasperation she fell to her knees in prayer and said, “Okay, God.  You need to level with me.  What do you want me to be?  What do you want me to do?  What are you calling me to do.”  She says that she felt a powerful sense of God saying “Do what pleases you.  Belong to me, but do what pleases you.”  She says it struck her as very strange that God’s call could actually touch a place of greatest joy within her, that she could be called to do the thing that pleases her the most.  Following God’s call means doing that which brings us the greatest gladness.  Joy is the biggest measure of how we discern our calling, of how we are to use our gifts.[4]  As Wesley understood it, our calling is the journey of our lifetime, made up of daily commitments to do our best with joy.

Another Christian writer, Frederick Buechner says, “Our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s hunger meet.”  Think about that.  “Our calling is where our deepest gladness and the world’s hunger meet.”  Jesus’s call to you on the lakeshore is ultimately about bringing you into joy as you serve this church, this community, this world.  Perhaps deep gladness is what made Peter, Andrew, James, and John drop their nets.  Perhaps deep gladness is what could make you drop nets, too.  Pull your feet out of that mud.  Step into Jesus naming you as a disciple.  Christ is calling you into joy.

[1] Cynthia D. Weems, “Reflections on the Lectionary”  Christian Century January 11, 2011, 21.

[2] Richard Heizenrater, Wesley and the People Called Methodists (Nashville:  Abingdon Press, 1995), 321.

[3] John Wesley, Letters, 25: 318.

[4] Rev. Dr. Thomas Long, “ Where You Never Expected to Be”  30 aired on Oct. 22, 2006.  Accessed on January 17, 2012.


Backbends bring a sense of joy.  Ustrasana, or camel pose, is a backbend with varying degrees of challenge, so even newcomers to yoga can explore some form of it. The description below is from, accessed January 14, 2018.


Step 1

Kneel on the floor with your knees hip width and thighs perpendicular to the floor. Rotate your thighs inward slightly, narrow your hip points, and firm but don’t harden your buttocks. Imagine that you’re drawing your sitting bones up, into your torso. Keep your outer hips as soft as possible. Press your shins and the tops of your feet firmly into floor.

Step 2

Rest your hands on the back of your pelvis, bases of the palms on the tops of the buttocks, fingers pointing down. Use your hands to spread the back pelvis and lengthen it down through your tail bone. Then lightly firm the tail forward, toward the pubis. Make sure though that your front groins don’t “puff” forward. To prevent this, press your front thighs back, countering the forward action of your tail. Inhale and lift your heart by pressing the shoulder blades against your back ribs.

Step 3

Now lean back against the firmness of the tail bone and shoulder blades. For the time being keep your head up, chin near the sternum, and your hands on the pelvis. Beginners probably won’t be able to drop straight back into this pose, touching the hands to the feet simultaneously while keeping the thighs perpendicular to the floor. If you need to, tilt the thighs back a little from the perpendicular and minimally twist to one side to get one hand on the same-side foot. Then press your thighs back to perpendicular, turn your torso back to neutral, and touch the second hand to its foot. If you’re not able to touch your feet without compressing your lower back, turn your toes under and elevate your heels.

See that your lower front ribs aren’t protruding sharply toward the ceiling, which hardens the belly and compresses the lower back. Release the front ribs and lift the front of the pelvis up, toward the ribs. Then lift the lower back ribs away from the pelvis to keep the lower spine as long as possible. Press your palms firmly against your soles (or heels), with the bases of the palms on the heels and the fingers pointing toward the toes. Turn your arms outwardly so the elbow creases face forward, without squeezing the shoulder blades together. You can keep your neck in a relatively neutral position, neither flexed nor extended, or drop your head back. But be careful not to strain your neck and harden your throat.

Step 5

Stay in this pose anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute. To exit, bring your hands onto the front of your pelvis, at the hip points. Inhale and lift the head and torso up by pushing the hip points down, toward the floor. If your head is back, lead with your heart to come up, not by jutting the chin toward the ceiling and leading with your brain. Rest in Child’s Pose for a few breaths.