Details of Thesis

Title Hearing the Call of God: Toward a theological phenomenology of vocation
Author Secomb, Meredith Ann
Institution Australian Catholic University
Date 2010
Abstract This study contributes to the development of a theological phenomenology of vocation. In so doing, it posits that the distressing condition of existential unrest can be a foundational motivation for the vocational search and argues that the discovery of one’s vocation, which necessarily entails an engagement with existential mystery, is served by attentiveness to what is termed the “pneumo-somatic” data of embodied consciousness. Hence, the study does not canvass the broad range of phenomena that would contribute to a comprehensive phenomenology of vocation. Rather, it seeks to highlight an aspect frequently overlooked in the vocational search, namely the value of attentiveness to one’s experience of the body in the context of prayerful engagement with the mystery of God. The questions addressed by the study arose from my experience of working at the interface of psychology and spirituality. People who have been subjected to extreme suffering frequently find that their usual modes of self-experience and of relating to the world have been stripped away. They experience agitation and restlessness. They are exposed to a mysterious and disturbing void at the core of their being and a profound existential self-question arises from that experience. Existential concerns have been addressed throughout the ages, engaging as they do both an interior experience of mystery and an ensuing self-question. Hans Urs von Balthasar explores these dynamics and articulates the self-question as “Who am I?” Another to address these issues is Bernard Lonergan who asks what it is to “be oneself.” For Balthasar the question is answered only by the discovery of one’s God-given vocation and mission. For Lonergan the question is answered by the authentic exercise of one’s capacity for self-transcendence. Ultimately, I suggest, both approaches are complementary. Both Balthasar and Lonergan envisage the possibility of lives lived in obedient attentiveness to the mystery of God’s grace. For Balthasar that attentiveness will result in alertness to the vocational and missionary calling with which God uniquely addresses each person. For Lonergan such attentiveness will result in being in love with God and in a life oriented ultimately towards the mystery of God’s love for us and our calling to serve in love. Balthasar and Lonergan complement one another in showing the full range of dynamics that constitute the human person. In relationship with God and with others, and through the authentic exercise of self-transcending intentionality, human beings not only find fulfilment but live lives that reveal the glory of God. Taken together, the ways in which Balthasar and Lonergan address these foundational human questions provide a comprehensive philosophical and theological underpinning for the consideration of vocation. In this study, I also draw on the work of the Lonergan scholar, Robert Doran, to help identify the dynamics of interiority that contribute to being adequately attentive to the manifestation of mystery in human consciousness. Doran’s notion of psychic conversion, and in particular his expansion of that conversion in an organic direction, serve my concerns. Doran provides an explanation for the tranquillity and rest that the human person seeks. For Doran such rest arises through attunement to God wherein there is no longer an object to which intentionality is directed. There is instead a nonintentional abandonment to the love of God, an experience that can overwhelm us by its impact upon our consciousness. I suggest that particular spiritual phenomena manifest at these times, such as the gifts of the Holy Spirit and the spiritual senses. The exercise of the gift of wisdom as well as an alert cooperation with the experience of the spiritual senses enables the development of a connatural attunement to God. I explore how it is that spiritual senses become evident in human consciousness and suggest that theological reflection needs to attend to a highly refined form of pneumo-somatic data that is available for attentive receptivity. Non-judgemental, accepting acknowledgement of the data of embodied consciousness is particularly important in the context of being exposed through faith to the new horizons of God’s love for us. Such love can upset our previous equanimity in its challenge to encompass new demands and, in the process, can generate anxiety and dread. It can have a decentring effect. I reflect on postmodern thinking which gives significant attention to the dynamic of decentring, as well as to the body and its engagement with mystery. Throughout the study, I emphasise the value of attentiveness to the felt-sense of embodied consciousness as a means for engagement with mystery. Through such attentiveness, human beings can learn to be attuned to God and to align themselves with God’s will for them in daily decision-making. People will thereby be helped to find the unique way in which God wishes them to love God and lovingly to serve others. In the ensuing discovery of their vocation, they find an answer to their existential self-questions.
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