Monday, December 05, 2005

Midlife, Work and the Call of the Wild ::

More often than not, a crisis of livelihood confronts us at midlife. In light of the passing of time, we begin to question the meaning of our work. Does it fit us well? Are we stressed out over it, and why? Some people decide to retool with education and embark on a new career. Others find ways to redefine their work, integrating their growing self-definition into what they do for a living. Work becomes more interwoven with the fabric of life in an enriching way.

A juncture for better or worse, midlife can also be a season of disintegration when the meaning of life, much less work, escapes us. I have met many on the journey who have not transcended this crisis. Self-destructive behavior often results—at work or home—as if their call to God's distraction is more like the seducing sounds of the mythological Sirens who lured ancient sailors into ruin. It is imperative to discern the call of Christ from the compulsions of myth.

Myths are stories and symbols that carry the meanings and values of culture. Often we are not conscious of these myths that influence us so profoundly. Every family has myths that are passed from generation to generation but are stories never told. It is as if these untold stories create a compulsion that we are powerless over and doomed to act out. The role of the son or daughter, the drive to suc­ceed or fail, the meaning of pregnancy, abuse, addiction—all can be the subject of mythic compul­sions.

In Homer's Odyssey, the songs of the voluptuous Sirens enticed sailors to their treacherous shores. Odysseus ordered his crewmen to plug their ears and lash him to the mast so they could resist these ruinous en­chant­ments. But these Siren compulsions could be transcended. The music of Orpheus aboard ship with Jason and the Argonauts was more enchanting than even that of the Sirens. In response, the Sirens cast themselves into the rocky waters.

This myth portrays something of the nature of myth itself—and the power of distraction. We, like Odysseus, in seeking freedom from the forces that bind us, are bound to re-enact over and again the drama of our mythic compulsions. But Christ, like Orpheus, sounds a tune that is eternally more spellbinding and enrapturing. In hearkening to the call of Christ, and being subdued by it, we are freed from our compul­sions and the myths that produce them.
We will hear a call in midlife surrounding vocation. Will it be the distracting call of God urging us to health and faith or the destructive call of social myth?

Shadowy myth produces compulsions of extremes. We are either adrift in isolation or moored at the harbor of culture. We are either lost to ourselves or self-absorbed. We are either bound in powerlessness or deluded into thinking we are society's sovereign. The vocational call of Christ frees us from these extremes.

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