W. H. Auden–another major poet who converted to Christianity–has written perceptively about vocation. This is from his poem entitled “Sext,” part of his Horae Canonicae, poems on the canonical hours on Good Friday. (It gets a little obscure towards the end, but he is referring to the medieval guilds, praying to the patrons of their particular crafts, each of which was thought of as a “mystery.” The last stanza ties to the hour (“noon,” which is when “Sext” was prayed) and to the death of Christ.
You need not see what someone is doing
to know if it is his vocation,
you have only to watch his eyes:
a cook mixing a sauce, a surgeon
making a primary incision,
a clerk completing a bill of lading,
wear the same rapt expression,
forgetting themselves in a function.
How beautiful it is,
that eye-on-the-object look.
To ignore the appetitive goddesses,
to desert the formidable shrines
of Rhea, Aphrodite, Demeter, Diana,
to pray insted to St Phocas,
St Barbara, San Saturnino,
or whoever one’s patron is,
that one may be worthy of their mystery,
what a prodigious step to have taken.
There should be monuments, there should be odes,
to the nameless heroes who took it first,
to the first flaker of flints
who forgot his dinner,
the first collector of sea-shells
to remain celibate.
Where should we be but for them?
Feral still, un-housetrained, still
wandering through forests without
a consonant to our names,
slaves of Dame Kind, lacking
all notion of a city
and, at this noon, for this death,
there would be no agents.
HT: Laura via Comment magazine