Vocation is sometimes described as a thread strung through our life that marks how and where we have followed our calling, whether it is in the work we do for a living or in how we spend our time outside of that paid work. “There’s a thread you follow,” wrote the poet William Stafford. “It goes among things that change. But it doesn’t change. . . . While you hold it you can’t get lost. . . . You don’t ever let go of the thread.”
My own experience of vocation has been more like a whole bunch of threads, and the ongoing challenge of weaving them together into something beautiful and true.
In a rug-making cooperative I once visited in northern India, I met one of the weavers, who sat before a rectangle of silk cords strung vertically in front of him as the warp of the rug in the making. A design drawn on graph paper was tucked into the warp at eye level. Above his head hung spools of thread in many colors, their rainbow strands hanging down within reach of his hands. One at a time, he would pull a new thread down, wrapping it around two layers of the warp in a swift figure 8 before shearing it with a sharp hooked knife. At the end of each row, he tightened these knots with a metal comb and a taut string, packing them in, 400-500 per inch, in a design likely to require three to four months’ time to complete even the smallest rug, 2 feet x 3 feet.
Finding our vocation is not unlike this slow art of weaving. It is not a one-time discovery, but the long, patient creation of the design of our lives, requiring attention and stillness and many years. The warp, spun of our gifts and our weaknesses both, provides the inner structure. We cover it slowly and beautifully over time with the many colored threads of our passions and activities – paid and unpaid – pulled through the warp until a design emerges, a beautiful pattern, a striking balance, the whole cloth of our lives.
What is the pattern emerging in the cloth of your life? What are the colors you’ve been using, and are there new colors begging to be added in your weaving or colors no longer available to you because of life’s changes?
If you wish to write about this, begin by describing the pattern and colors of what you have woven to this point. Then ask yourself, will this pattern continue? Is it time for a change? Has something in your life or the world added a skein of a new color at the top of your loom or taken one away, or (quite likely) both? If so, what do the colors now available to you represent and how will they influence the pattern you weave now? After describing what you’ve woven before, begin anew with this prompt, and follow wherever it leads: This new design, emerging now. . . .