Two by Two text

Two by Two

October 4th, 2015

As Charlotte shared in the story, Noah was a man with a mission.

God called him to build an ark, and fill it with animals and birds and his family.

God even reminds Noah to bring enough food to feed everyone.

God said do this, and then I am going to flood the earth and kill every other living thing.

Noah did as God commanded.

He had a crystal clear sense of purpose.

Having a goal, like saving all life on earth, provides clarity.

It gives a person a focus, which allows for distractions to fall away.

Think of the game Capture the Flag.

There is a bright orange flag somewhere, with obstacles in your way.

Perhaps the orange flag is tied to a tree perched high on a hillside.

You can see it distantly, a bright spot when you squint,

but the forest in between obscures your route.

Your goal is to retrieve the flag.

And so you work towards it, slowly and steadily, sometimes a few steps backward, but always with your eye on gaining the flag.

And sometimes there are people trying to stop you too.

Not with malice, but with their own needs and purposes.

Capture the Flag is a long game.

People in business, sports, professional careers, tend to have Capture the Flag purposes.

A clear goal helps people to succeed.

It helps keep athletes going through painful training.

It helps justify long years of education and work in junior positions.

It takes determination to achieve a goal.

Chris Hadfield was born in Sarnia, Ontario.

He became one of the most beloved astronauts of our generation, delighting millions with his tweets and music from the International Space Station.

He made space seem immediate and real.

While Chris made being commander of the space station look easy, 

it took most of his life to achieve his goal of soaring into space.

After seeing Neil Armstrong land on the moon in 1969,

he knew at 9 years old exactly what he wanted to do.

So Chris began to imagine his life as an astronaut, making his choices based on what he thought an astronaut would do.

He had a natural inclination to flying, and went to military college to become a pilot, going on to become a top test pilot.

He did all this at a time when Canada had no astronaut program.

Chris looked at how people become astronauts in the United States and followed their path, even when he had no hope of success.

And even when Canada began our own space program, we hired payload specialists – scientists and engineers – not pilots.

More than thirty years after Chris’s sense of purpose became clear,

he was selected by the Canada Space Agency to be an astronaut.

Chris’s purpose was technically impossible when he first found his dream.

But he didn’t let that stop him.

Nor did he pursue it so relentlessly that it destroyed his life.

He kept at it because the work it took to become an astronaut made him happy.

And he worked with his family, ensuring they supported him, despite the long absences. He made sure he had loving support all along the way.

He was able to pursue that elusive orange flag stuck on a tree up that high mountain because the journey itself had meaning for him.

Quaker Parker Palmer would say this is because Chris found that sweet spot between his gifts and the world’s needs.

Chris had the aptitude, drive and skills to become an astronaut.

But he also loved the work. 

He loved flying test planes.

He loved the behind the scenes work, the operations which comprise most of an astronaut’s career. (Hadfield, An astronaut’s guide to life on earth)

For Parker Palmer, vocation is a calling that you hear.

And you hear it from yourself.

Before you can choose what to do with your life, you must let your life speak.

Listen to your life telling you who you are.

You must listen for the truths and values at the heart of your identity.

And these are your truths and values,

not the ones you think you should hold,

or the ones others tell you to hold,

but your own truths.

Poet May Sarton wrote:

Now I become myself.

It’s taken time, many years and places.

I have been dissolved and shaken,

Worn other people’ faces…”

Now I become myself.

We have to stop wearing other people’s faces.

To find our vocation, our own purpose,

We must listen to our lives.

This is hard to do.

Listening, as we discovered last month, can be difficult.

It can be hard to hear who we truly are with all the noise around.

Society tells us we want to be successful with large cars and fancy houses.

Society tells us meaning arises out of celebrity and fame.

We are also surrounded by other people’s expectations.

Parents who want a certain kind of child, schools who want a certain kind of student.

It is very confusing.

Hard to claim our way of being in the world.

Especially for those not white, middle class, and financially secure.

For those marginalized because of economic status, racial identity, culture, or gender, it may be even more important to seek an orange flag.

It can be life saving, a way out of the narrowness of expectation.

To know that you are more than the labels, to know your true self is bigger than that, provides hope and a way forward.

To become one’s self is a very great gift.

For some it takes a lifetime.

Others know who they are at nine years old.

However we get there, may we find that sweet spot where the gift of ourselves is what the world needs.


Now Chris Hadfield is a very driven, dedicated person.

He experienced a clarity of purpose at a young age and had the skills and talents for the work.

When I was nine I wanted to be an astronaut too.

I also wanted to live in the Land of Oz.  And swim with dolphins. And hang out with gorillas.

I had no clarity of purpose. 

Some people have a strong sense of purpose like a flag waving in the distance, calling them forward.

For others, a sense of purpose acts more like the blazes on a hiking trail.

Those occasional white splotches of paint on the trees,

telling you this is the path.

You don’t focus on them, but they help keep you moving forward.

And sometimes you lose sight of them and have to spend some time searching for the right direction.

Sometimes you switch to another trail, the one with blue blazes, that goes down into the valley instead.

A sense of purpose for these people is a framework that guides their lives.

It can be as simple as “to go through life with a smile on my face and a twinkle in my eye.”

It isn’t a destination,

but a way of being in the world.

Oprah Winfrey is a billionaire broadcaster, with a cable network and lifestyle magazine, but her sense of purpose is that she is a teacher who inspires people. 

It’s not a goal, but an attitude which guides her path.

Whether your sense of purpose is a bright orange flag calling you forth,

or a quiet blue blaze on the side of the trail, what matters is that it expresses your unique way of being.

And in this busy, information heavy, globalized society, knowing yourself and your purpose can be difficult.

Former Episcopalian priest Barbara Brown Taylor writes about her struggle to find a sense of purpose when she was in college.

She sought an answer from God and prayed for weeks.

One night begging for God to tell her what to do with her life,

God said “anything that pleases you”.

Barbara was astonished.

She asked again what she should do.

The voice inside her head said “anything that pleases you, and belong to me.”

Barbara found a great relief in this.

God had an overall purpose for her,

but she was going to have to figure out the particulars for herself.

She found this freeing, the sense that the how was not important.

For Barbara, she understood the essential message of Christianity as loving God and loving your neighbour.

This allowed Barbara to see her work as a waitress, as a nursing home volunteer, as a student writing essays, as chances to practice her purpose.

It was up to her to choose kindness over meanness, to see the divine in every face. 

As long as she remembered that she belonged to God, and treated people well, it didn’t matter what she actually did.

She was bigger than her work,

her sense of purpose larger.

She could do what she loved to do, follow a meandering route,

without worrying if it was the “right” thing to do.

Barbara Brown Taylor and Parker Palmer come to the same conclusion.

That to have a healthy sense of purpose,

you must know yourself and do what pleases you.

This isn’t selfishness,

just doing what you want,

but an understanding that when we are healthy and whole,

living in a way that feeds us,

we do a better job being part of the whole.

People who report feeling exhausted and burnt out may be following the wrong purpose.

Some people are driven to reach for a goal in a destructive way,

so focused they harm the people around them.

Perhaps it is their purpose that is the problem.

Sometimes we let the “oughts” and “shoulds” get in the way.

It can be easy to embrace a group truth rather than sorting out our own.

Society says managers matter and plumbers don’t.

But when you are skilled with your hands and like to fix things,

you are much better off as a plumber.

It can be hard to admit your truth, but harder – in the long run – to deny it.

Burning out, pain and sadness, failure, a sense of being lost,

these are the dark places we can go when we struggle with purpose and a sense of self.

But even the dark has its own gifts.

The painful struggles help us to recognize our limits and weaknesses.

They help us be more honest with ourselves about what we really care about.

We may see where we need to work harder, or recognize that we need a new path.

Having a larger sense of purpose may help.

Barbara felt better knowing she belonged to God.

She could worry less about work knowing that she had a larger role in expressing God’s love for the world.

For those who experience a loving God, or Goddess,

a sense of divine belonging provides shape and meaning.

But many of us don’t have a sense of God.

So it takes a little more work to find a bigger sense of self.

It might come from our family, or in service to a cause, or in dedication to a profession.

For some of us it might be a sense of being a child of the universe,

Part of the vast cosmos.

For others it might be a sense of belonging to the earth,

Part of the interconnected web of life.

It might even be being part of this spiritual community.

As people of the chalice, we belong to this ever evolving tradition,

which values caring for one another and the planet.

We support each person’s journey to become themselves, as they truly are.   

Do what pleases you and know you belong to the chalice.

May we listen to our lives and learn to live into our gifts.

Whether you play capture the flag or are hiking on a trail,

Know that you are welcome here.

So Say We All.


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