It was my calling, a person might say, describing how they were pulled toward a particular career or type of volunteer work. The type of awakening that leads to action may have its start in the mental, spiritual, or physical realm, or some combination thereof — a pull, secular or not, that a new book explores in depth.
Many branches of psychology tend to steer away from topics that have historically been related to religion. However, the idea of a calling seems to come up frequently in both for-profit and non-profit work. And films about technology moguls rising, high-profile executives who have been downsized, and blue-collar workers who walk away from dissatisfied lives — all of whom take a step out of the ordinary to find a calling — are commonplace.
Now, David Bryce Yaden, a research fellow at the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center under the well-known Martin Seligman, Theo D. McCall, the chaplain at St. Peter’s College, and J. Harold Ellens, a psychologist and theologian, have come together to edit Being Called: Scientific, Secular, and Sacred Perspectives. The book appears to serve as the bow that ties together a group of volumes published by Praeger at the intersection of psychology and spirituality.
The blend of writings from spiritualists, theologians, medical practitioners, scientists, and those who examine the calling experience from multiple perspectives provides both the casual reader and the practitioner with a solid foundation. The first part of the book contains essays from scientific and secular perspectives, while the second part deals with the sacred. The essay in chapter three looks at intuition through a scientific lens as a mental process that informs calling. A later chapter, with a religious lens, describes calling in terms of its popularization in society, where it is commonly known as “purpose.” It looks at the mental calisthenics surrounding the Why am I here? type questions, and ties in teachings from Carl Jung and Howard Thurman.
Despite that the two types of essays in the book come out of disparate disciplines — science and religion — all of the chapters tend to use similar language and land within the same general area of possibility.
A chapter by David Lukoff discusses the benefits of so-called spiritual emergencies — in this case, psychosis and spirituality. Dreams and experiences “during episodes of crisis or dysfunction can be part of finding a Calling,” Lukoff writes. “Meditation, journaling, bibliotherapy, expressive arts, shamanic practices, and psychotherapy can clarify their value and relevance to one’s life.” Meanwhile, another chapter focuses on doctors, but is potentially salient to anyone who wants a greater understanding of callings.
Some positive psychologists have begun to think of the notion of a calling as a component or type of prospection, which Seligman defines as “the ubiquitous imagination and evaluation of possible futures.” In this sense, a person who explores a calling spends time examining the past and present to predict a best possible future. The editors of this volume suggest that, in its focus on the science of the mind, psychology as a field should embrace prospections — since most of us experience them regularly.
The editors make it clear that their collection is not exhaustive, but that they have tried to cover many outlooks. As Seligman suggests in the introduction, the essays in the book provide “unconventional, even outlandish” explorations of how we develop an idea of what the future may look like.
Overall, the writers encourage us to step into unfamiliar territory and explore what may feel surprisingly familiar. Spiritualists or religious scholars will find parity between their understanding of calling as something instigated by a higher power and what the book offers from a secular perspective, while secular readers will note similarities between their idea of calling and what the religious, or sacred, essays put forth.
Indeed, the editors welcome the overlap. They suggest that Being Called may be the first step toward an empirical basis for traditions and actions typically identified as religious or spiritual — as well as toward the acceptance of spiritual beliefs as foundations for scientifically accepted mental or psychological processes.
The language in the book may read as a bit high-level for undergraduate students, but would serve as an appropriate resource for advanced students or those doing graduate work.
Being Called: Scientific, Secular, and Sacred Perspectives
Praeger, August 2015
Hardcover, 314 pages