A Great Oak Tree
1801, Black chalk with gray wash, 21x 17 cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington
We all have the potential to discover our vocation, a role in life which brings together our gifts and experience and makes us feel fulfilled. This might be in the public sphere in our paid or unpaid work or it might be a private vocation for home-making or caring. Whatever it is there is a sense of having arrived, perhaps unexpectedly, at the right place.
I thought my vocation was to be a priest in the Church of England and over the past two years I have been exploring that understanding in a formal process called Discernment. This was not a recent conviction which arrived as a bolt from the blue but one that had been at the back of my mind for many years, even as far back as university. Unfortunately my student days pre-date the change which allowed the ordination of women and when that decision was made in 1992 I was looking after two pre-school children. By the time I was able to put myself forward for consideration the seed which had been sown so early in my life had grown into a great tree which blocked my path.
The outcome was not what I expected. It became clear to me that I was not the type of person that the Church of England was looking for: I was not under 35 and committed to introducing what is known as Fresh Expressions of Faith and I could not improve the diversity statistics. In June I decided to withdraw from the process.
It was the right decision but it felt as though the tree which had represented so much crashed down on top of me. I can not say whether it fell in an instant or had been weakened over a period of time but I scrambled from under the branches feeling very battered and it has taken me a long time to come to terms with the new landscape. I decided that I must not walk away from the wreckage and I have worked hard in the past six months to chop up the tree, examine the pieces and stack them away.
When a tree falls everything changes. New vistas open up and seeds germinate as light reaches the ground where the tree had been. These are positive things but there is the period of loss first, grief for the old familiar landscape and then trying to make sense of what happened. I do not know what direction my life will take now but let's hope that there is a seed putting out tiny leaves somewhere in the undergrowth.