The Vocation of Breath and Being
A reflection from Howard Thurman's Meditations of the Heart
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Though this past week represented the official start of a new semester, I took a class in August that counts towards this fall on vocation. If you’ve been following my work for a while, you know I talk a lot about “rest as vocation.” Well, I first stumbled upon this way of thinking. through a book that had challenged my previous assumption for what can count as vocation, “Nobody Cries When We Die” by Patrick Reyes.1 Reyes put forth the idea of “survival as vocation,” which for many of us comes as a welcomed relief from vocation models that only consider how to find the best 9-to-5.
This past week in a class, we talked about a practice of Howard Thurman, who served as the Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University. When he needed a break he would make his way to a story in the Downtown Crossing area (which is now a major shopping center for the city of Boston) and he would just go up and down the escalators, until he felt at peace enough to return to work.
There are many questions one could ask a man who felt so burdened by his work that it led him to such an uncommon resting ritual. I am excited to learn more about Thurman this semester and to read his work more closely.
Thurman was a brooder. Upon learning this about him, I felt seen and comforted. I am also a brooder.
I am reminded of my time in high school, where I was class co-president, and did not yet know how deeply introverted I was. I did not have practices for rest like I do today, so the need for solitude would sometimes just sneak up on me and take over.
Our cafeteria was also an auditorium, so there was a stage that usually just seemed out of place. My other co-president and I would stand on when we needed to make announcements. It was otherwise unused, but there was no hiding when you were on that stage.
I would have days when the need for reflection time would sneak up on me and I would just lay on that stage during lunch. People would come up to me and ask what was wrong and I said nothing. I would spend the entire day in silence if I could, and maybe only use words to write poetry.
Sometimes I was overwhelmed, but sometimes I just needed time and had no other space to enjoy it.2
Sometimes resting must happen to allow inspiration to move through, find us, and comfort us.
And in this way, having the space to honor your breath and being is vocational.
Listen to this 4-minute meditation: In this meditation reading from Thurman’s Meditations of the Heart,3 find the time and space to reflect on these words and how work and rest are intertwined for you.
Journaling/Conversation prompt: Ask yourself if your definition of vocation is limited. How might you reclaim an understanding that you are called to rest?