“God only knows the endless possibilities that lie folded in each of us.” Parables of the Cross
Possibilities. How do we choose our path(s) when different vocational possibilities seem to pull us in different directions? How was Lilias Trotter’s set of vocational possibilities influenced by the current cultural assumptions of her era? What would it have looked like if Trotter had pursued her art without the waning of her commitment to Christ? Vocation, being as diverse and simultaneous as the many kinds of relationships in our lives, how then do we handle overlapping vocations? What is our set of imaginative vocational opportunities?
These questions, along with others, were the focus of the Lilias Trotter Symposium at Wheaton College this past Thursday (September 15). Lilias’s radical choice, concerning the role of art in her life, became the springboard for thought and discussion about the complexity of vocation choices explored through a variety of presentations: On the Life of Lilias Trotter (Miriam Rockness), On John Ruskin (Matthew Milliner), On the Making of “Many Beautiful Things” (Laura Waters Hinson), On leading Discussions of Film (Lena Connor/Giovanna Meeks). Biographer, artists, film maker, patrons of art, further explored this subject during the panel discussion following the screening of “Many Beautiful Things.”
Vocation. I’m often asked, in regards to Lilias’s vocational choice, “Was it worth it?” Implicit in the query is the doubt that the gain was worth the sacrifice. I was, I admit, haunted by this question when researching and writing her story. Was it necessary for her to give up all that potential and opportunity in the world of art and culture? Could she not have served God as effectively – more effectively – through her art and those who would people her world?
Having “lived” in her world, through her diaries and written work, I hasten to respond: I might agonize over the “what if’s” and “might have been’s” but one thing is certain: Lilias did not. The decision made, art continued to be essential to her soul – whether processing her own pilgrimage or developing material for ministry – but she whole-heartedly pursued what for her was “God’s calling” without looking back and with an undivided heart. Furthermore, it is important for me to note that she did not generalize her radical choice to others. In Parable of the Cross, she writes: “There are those to whom a blessed life of fruitfulness to God comes in a simple way, with seemingly no hard process of dying involved…”
Clearly, our vocations – in the traditional Christian framework – (to quote Chris Armstrong, Director of OPUS: The Art of Work) “are the ways we love and serve our neighbors and thus, ultimately, the way God loves the world and supplies their need through us.” Lilias’s vocation was demonstrated through incarnational love lavished upon the Arab Muslims as well as.among other services, translating and printing Scripture to strategically “plant” throughout the land of Algeria. Today, a church visible in Algeria is, in part, the germination of those seeds planted a century ago by Lilias and her colleagues.
This symposium, in truth, was the culmination of the efforts of many people in many vocations – doubtless an interweaving of vocations as varied and simultaneous as the phases and stages of each participant’s life. Consider the variety of vocations represented in creating this particular venue: teachers, librarians, media technicians, writers, artists, film maker, editors, business persons, patrons of the arts – to say nothing of the formation of an academic institution to host such an event!
This event was, likewise, a celebration of the diversity of skills and talents and work that crafted “Many Beautiful Things”. Each aspect of the finished work has its own story, as specific and personal as Lilias’s story. Each person involved in this creative venture has followed their “calling” – or, should I say God’s calling – in their lives.
In conclusion I want to share one person’s “story” – Austin Blasingame – the artist who animated Lilias’s art for the film. Follow this link to hear his story of how the creative process fed him as he drew upon his talent – vocation! – to enrich the lives of others.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him – but God has revealed it to us by His Spirit.”