Monday, August 1, 2011

The Call

A number of years ago, I had been listening to Bette Midler's version of God Help the Outcasts, a touching Alan Menken composition from The Hunchback of Notre Dame, and was quite moved by it, well actually, a lot moved by it. As I listened to the silence after the song ended, I began to hear, inside my head, a distant sound that seemed to be a blend of sorrowful weeping, groans of pain, and fearful moaning, of countless humans and animals. In the brief time that it lasted, I felt a deep sadness, and somehow knew that it was the sound of the suffering that we, as the human race, have inflicted.

I don't think this was a celestial vision.  I believe it was a Makyo, a waking dream, or perhaps some flatulence of the temporal lobe. It did leave a lasting impression, however, and my memory of it is still clear. A couple of times, the thought has even occurred to me: I wonder if what I heard was the Call?

There are many stories of people responding to a call to become missionaries, to become priests, to feed the hungry or to heal the sick. We use the terms "calling" and "vocation" (from the Latin vocare, 'to call') to describe pursuits that have meaning for us. Something beckons to us to leave behind the compulsive cycle of working harder to earn more money to buy more things to enjoy more pleasure for ourselves. How this process happens is a wonderful mystery to me.

It seems the call that turns our head, that draws our attention to suffering, can come from anywhere and take any form - a sudden shock, or just a nagging feeling that something isn't quite right. A feeling that won't go away and eventually knocks on our door so loudly that we have to open it and embrace whatever greets us on the other side.

A young monk asked Zen master Gensha where he should start to enter Zen. Gensha asked, "do you hear the sound of the mountain stream?" The monk said, "yes". Gensha said, "enter Zen from there."

Do we feel an urge to listen for that call? A desire to hear it? A wish to be, or even feel, more compassionate? That is the call.


  1. oh David, thank you for this post.

    Yes. Yes. Yes.

    I also fear the call, because to listen to it and act on it may mean a complete upheaval of what I call my life. No half-measures for me, oh no. But maybe that is one of the hard lessons I need to learn -- perhaps half-measures, step by step is my middle way.

  2. What a call Dave. Reminded me that it's been awhile since last direct call like that one. Thanks. I'll be sure to tune myself to the innervoice within...

  3. Thanks, Tara! I have a feeling that if they are sincere, baby steps can be huge - at least I hope so, because that's what it feels like I'm doing.

    The picture is a little fellow about to be released from hospital in Afghanistan, where he was being treated for malnutrition. I was going to post a photo of hollow-eyed starving people but thought that might be overkill....

    Thanks, Rizal. A never ending process. BTW I like your blog!

  4. I agree that it's a series of steps that bring us to being able to hear our calling. Like Rumi says, our responsibility is to clear the obstacles in the way of love, and that's what I've been quite rigorous about lately. Before I could even open the door, I needed to prepare my compassionate side, a bit habituated toward the self, and not in an uplifting way. I wrote about a couple of these baby steps here:, if you're inclined. If not, just know that I'm glad we linked up on twitter, and I look forward to reading more of your posts. Thanks for your openness with your writing...

  5. Thanks Kellie! I am definitely inclined - Thanks for the link to your post Open (Screen Door) Policy. It was a refreshing second look at how we tend to disengage, but to quote you, "we are evolving to create global webs and bridges and understandings". I look forward to reading more of your posts, too.

  6. Thank you David... I too hear a call to speak loudly on behalf of the nonhuman victims caught in our species grasp of domination. It is embedded into my bones and defines me just as certain as the lines across the skin on my palm.

    If everyone in the world listened to those voices and callings that urge them to awaken and champion for their cause - Our world would be so much better...

    Thank you for your inspiration again... And the photo of that bright-eyed child.

  7. Thanks, Bea - I very much admire your dedication to our cousins that can't speak for themselves.

  8. I think a "calling" has little to do with God(s) or religion per se. For example, I believe a person who is completely ignorant of Buddhism could reach enlightenment. If someone who has never even heard of Buddhism works tirelessly to end suffering and live a good life of his/her own accord, isn't that enough to eventually be "enlightened", whether or not that person buys into the rituals and texts of Buddhism itself?

    Christians tend to write their rules in a way that means that people who are not Christian cannot get to heaven, but that seriously conflicts with the concept of a gracious and benevolent God. I believe a Buddhist could go to "heaven". But that is because "heaven", "enlightenment", or whatever else you call it is just our way of trying to understand and categorize. If you really look at the ultimate goals of most religions, aren't the ultimate goals analogous or even identical across religions?

    I recommend Karen Armstrong's book, "Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life", if you haven't already read it. She is a former Catholic nun who writes about how people get wrapped up in their own delusions, focus on church/temple/mosque politics and lose sight of what's important. She suggests we should all focus on being a good person and living a compassionate life, regardless of religion.

  9. Lola I totally agree. No religion or sect or doctrine or sage has a corner on the market on awakening. Possibly Eckhart Tolle is an example of awakening without any apparent practice.

    I don't see why a Buddhist couldn't go to 'heaven', whatever that may be, although I'm not convinced of the need to theorize on those realms if we are sincerely doing our best to be compassionate (I was taking some flak on that point - see the comments on the previous post).

    I picked up Karen Armstrong's book after I heard her Ted Talk. I've started it and like it but haven't finished it yet.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to write such thoughtful comments!


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