Friday, November 18, 2011

The Calling and the Calling

Just noticed something intriguing about my favorite painting.  We call it "The Calling of Saint Matthew."  I only now realized that the name in the original Italian is "La Vocazione di San Matteo."  So it's pretty clear that what we have here is "calling:" in two senses:  Jesus calls Matthew ("Yo Matteo!")--with his extended hand--"vocation" in the vocative, a form of address. But Matthew receives the call  ("You talkina me?"):   He receives the call, and while we can't quite say that he accepts the call--not just yet--he seems to know that he will accept it, and that his life will be forever changed.

It's an ambiguity that runs through (at least) the English language. When the form instructs us to list our "vocation," we write down what it is that we do for a living: hop picker, or bus driver, whatever. We may not feel "called" to either of these jobs (although I wonder about bus driver: of all occupations, surely not the worst--the bus driver is, after all, in some sense the captain of the ship). We go to "vocational school" in lieu of studying "the liberal arts." "Professional school" is ambiguous: "just barber college," the English professors will say of the law school, annoyed no doubt in part that those lawyers get paid so much.

But a "calling" is clearly something more than a "vocation." Preachers may be "called," and the preacher on the street corner will assure you that it is no mere metaphor. Yo, Matteo. Yes, I'm talkina you.

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