The opening scene of the BBC TV Drama series, ‘Call the Midwife’ on Sunday 2 March 2014 has Jenny Lee* returning to the midwifery mix of young women and nuns at the Nonnatus House convent in the East End of London after her time away grieving for her dead fiancé.
The voice-over narrates as if it is her thoughts and she announces that she has ‘returned to the work that defines her’. In Latin, ‘Operari, ut set’ … work that defines. Is this the same as Vocatio, the call that a Roman slave would hear from his master to which they had no choice but to respond from which we get the term ‘vocation’, often applied to the call to religious orders or service. The call from God that jenny Lee’s holy sister colleagues would have been familiar with.
I think the concept of a calling, something to which we MUST respond is not a popular idea today. However, I think ‘work that defines’ finds a warm welcome as it taps into the idea of being true to oneself or a life that is integrated and defined by who we are. I used to have a Corporate Communications Business called ‘2of3 Design & Business Development’ and the strapline was ‘it’s about WHO you are, not just WHAT you do.’ My USP (unique selling proposition) was that I would coach company leaders and owners through a process that got them to understand WHY they did business as well as WHAT they wanted to do through their businesses. This was a fulfilling process for most of the business owners I worked with because it tapped into what ‘defined’ them as people and their motivation for what they did.
I did quite a bit of work for church-connected or faith-led charities and the concept of Vocatio or vocation was very high. So, maybe the idea of having a calling to do something is connected with there being an external caller, to whom we have no choice but to respond? Like the slave who would refuse at pain of death. If the calling comes from within, then maybe the idea of vocatio doesn’t sit well with us, because we don’t like the idea of people … or a divine being even … telling us what we should do. It takes away our sense of control over our destiny … our choice to seek and find our operari, ut set … our work that defines us.
What do you think?