On the flight home from Rome last week I watched a couple of movies. One was “Ricki and the Flash,” starring Meryl Streep as a middle-aged woman who abandons her family in Indiana to pursue a calling to be a rock music performer in California. You can read all about it, of course, by just Googling the title and reading the reviews, so I won’t repeat any of that but rather share with you my own take on it.
In a way it is a “Prodigal Son” story, but in another more important way I think it is an affirmation of something that I and others have often written about in these essays – that each of us has a unique calling and that we don’t truly live if we put a bushel basket on it. It’s summed up in the old hymn, “This little light of mine; I’m gonna let it shine.” Fully living into that potential to be the one genuine unique creature that God created us to be is always difficult; no one knows – no one can know – what we know about ourselves and our sense of who and what we are called to be. Our uniqueness inevitably, in and of itself, separates us to greater or lesser degree from even those closest to us.
Unanswered, unasked even, is why Linda, Ricki’s real name, had to leave home to pursue her calling. Why could she not that have been a rock star in the evenings right there in Indiana instead of having to move half a continent away? The question answers itself, of course; fulfilling her duties as wife and mother and home maker would have been so distracting and diluting that her calling would have been smothered. And a lack of support from her family wouldn’t have helped.
But still there are questions about this principle. What constitutes self-fulfillment as opposed to self indulgence? Would I feel the same about a neighbor of ours years ago – a Tom Jones groupie, who left her family for months on end, traveling around the country following Tom Jones to go to his concerts? I didn’t. And are there callings that are so beyond the pale that no one should pursue them – such as a contract hit man? Maybe; but maybe not. Another favorite movie of mine, Assassination Tango, starring Robert Duval, suggests that there might be a place in God’s universe for even the contract hit man, in this case, an instrument of justice.
The church’s teaching on this is pretty consistently on the side of individual self-fulfillment, seen most clearly in the sanctioning of giving up everything to pursue a religious life. We see that played out in real life and highly praised in movies. But there are caveats and conditions What if the one who left in “Ricki” was not the mom but the dad, the financial provider of the family, leaving them, perhaps, penniless and homeless? Not so justifiable, I’d think.
Perhaps for each of us it can be summed up in a prayer like this, “Lord give me the wisdom to truly know what I am supposed to be and to do, and the strength and courage so to be and to do in the most responsible way that I can.”
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC, 26-April-2016.