The Journey of the Called Life

Readers of this blog may be interested in a new book about vocation called Living Vocationally: The Journey of the Called Life (Cascade Books, 2021). A labor of love and friendship, the book was co-written by Charlie Pinches, who teaches at the University of Scranton, and Paul Wadell, professor emeritus at St. Norbert College. Weaving together insights from a wide range of thinkers, including Augustine, Aquinas, and Gabriel Marcel as well as Barbara Brown Taylor, Parker Palmer, Wendell Berry and Pope Francis, a sizeable portion of the book explores the virtues that are needed for the journey: attentiveness and humility, fidelity and courage, justice, hope, and patience.

The book draws upon much of the recent writing about vocation, including the collections published as part of the NetVUE Scholarly Resources Project. Several authors who have contributed to this blog—including David Cunningham, Douglas Henry, Jason Mahn, Anantanand Rambachan, Caryn Riswold, and Hannah Schell—are mentioned in the footnotes throughout the book.

The authors begin with this invitation:

Thinking of ourselves as called changes the way we inhabit the world. It changes the choices we make and the reasons that we make them. It enriches our everyday existence by expanding both our sense of possibility and responsibility. It reshapes how we see and approach other people because to live vocationally is to know that callings can come to us from the people we least expect. Even more, Christians believe that living vocationally frees us to imagine both who we are and what we do—as well as why we are here and where we are going—in truly creative and liberating ways.

Organized into nine chapters and less than 200 pages in length, the book would work well in a classroom setting or campus program directed at juniors and seniors. An early chapter offers a brief, historical overview of the idea of vocation in Christianity followed by a short section that explores the idea of vocation in other religious traditions, including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, and Confucianism. Chapter five offers a framework for vocational discernment, informed by three principles. First, that our callings are not blueprints, but unfolding, mysterious gifts. Second, that discernment will require us to distinguish among our various callings, and third, that secondary callings should always enhance the fundamental callings of our lives.

To listen to a conversation with the authors of this book, check out this recent episode of the NetVUE podcast.

The authors then (boldly!) spell out a six-step process of discernment, one that successfully brings together many insights found in the contemporary discourse around vocation. Each step is phrased as a question:

  1. Who and where are we?
  2. What does our past tell us about how we might be called?
  3. What are we hearing?
  4. What do we do well?
  5. Where are we needed?
  6. What brings us joy?

While the target audience is young adults, readers of all ages and in various stages of life will find this book a valuable companion, and, ss the authors remind us early in the book, vocational discernment is a lifelong process. One comes away with an understanding of the rich history and complexity of vocation. While there are no easy answers, a careful reader will likely be comforted, and fortified, for the arduous journey.

Living Vocationally: The Journey of the Called Life has been selected as a text for a new “Big Read” project sponsored by NetVUE. To learn more about this project, see the webpage The 2021 NetVUE Big Read.


Hannah Schell was a professor in the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Monmouth College in Illinois from 2001-2018. She is the author of “Commitment and Community: The Virtue of Loyalty and Vocational Discernment” in At this Time and In This Place: Vocation and Higher Education, ed. David S. Cunningham (Oxford University Press, 2015). Currently the Online Community Coordinator and the editor of this blog, she is also a campus consultant for NetVUE. Click here to see other blog posts by Hannah.

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