19 February 2011


Susan and I were married 20th May 1972, and in the summer - July, I think - we travelled to the mainland (from Hawai'i, where we lived) to visit a variety of persons - her mother and father, her uncle, aunt and cousins; her great-aunts and grandmother.  At the time of that trip I had been a Christian for about two and a half years.  Although I had begun my church-going in a Lutheran church, and was baptised there, we were by, I think, the end of 1970 or early 1971 attending a Baptist Church - International Baptist Church in Honolulu.  We had been married there, in fact, and many of our Christian friends were members.

Our trip took us to Portland, Oregon - the town where Sue had spent her early childhood, and where many of her relations lived - and whilst there I visited Western Conservative Baptist Seminary - now called just "Western Seminary" (I wonder if that means they are no longer conservative :-)) - with which I had corresponded from Hawai'i, asking about seminary education.  I planned to finish my PhD in linguistics at the University of Hawai'i, and then Susan and I would move to Portland where I would become a Baptist minister.  Talking with a man there cemented this idea in my mind.

In August, 1972, shortly after we had returned to Honolulu, I received a telegramme - a real paper telegramme! the only one I think I have ever seen - from Bruce Biggs, who had been a friend, teacher, and part-time employer at the University of Hawai'i, and was now Head of the Anthropology Department at the University of Auckland - saying that there was a three-year lectureship in linguistics open at the University of Auckland - would I like to apply for it?

Sue and I were quite distressed by this.  We had planned our move to Portland.  That move was attractive in a great many ways.  In addition to the fact that I was keen to be a pastor - God knows whether I would have been a good one, but I was keen, with new-convert zeal! - almost all of Susan's relations lived in the northwest United States, in Portland and in Seattle.  We believed we had discerned God's will in this matter.  Here comes this telegramme from out of the blue.

We went to talk with our pastor, Jim Cooke.  Somewhat disturbingly, he put the question back on us.  Quoting Psalm 37, verse 4:
Delight thyself also in the LORD: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.
"What," he asked, "is the desire of your heart?

Gee, thanks, Pastor Jim :-)

We decided that I would apply and see what happened.  On 2 February, 1973, we landed in Auckland.

'Vocation' means 'calling.'  God, we say, calls men to this or that.  I remember, when I was in process of becoming a Catholic, wondering about the 'call' that one heard people talk about - men being 'called' to the priesthood, men and women 'called' to 'religious life' (which I thought an odd term for living in a monastery - don't we all try to live religious lives??).  Did the people hear actual voices from God?  Was there a kind of certainty implanted in their minds?

I still wonder, because some - and not only Catholics - talk as though they did experience such a certainty.  Some, perhaps, even hear voices.  I have never had any such certainty of an external call - I have only, in each case, known what I wanted to do, even before I was a Christian:
  • study astronomy (as a youth)
  • marry Edna (1962)
  • change to linguistics (1964)
  • turn to Jesus (1970)
  • marry Susan (1970 - though it took two more years to make it happen :-))
  • take up the job lecturing in linguistics (1972)
  • move to Yap to work on Yapese (1975)
  • move back to New Zealand (1984 - but more on that below)
  • become a Catholic (1994)
  • be involved with Opus Dei (1997)
And no doubt other, lesser, 'calls' along the way.

It was that 1984 move back to New Zealand that prompted me to think of this post.  Because in that case, I was decidedly uncertain.  Indeed, I am quite sure that in great part my motives were selfish - therefore, at least in one sense, sinful.

When we moved to Yap in 1976, I was very much filled with the sense of God's calling for my life.  I was to be the great apostle to Yap (you know, converting all those heathen Catholics to the true Reformed faith :-)), and to be the Samuel Johnson/Noah Webster rolled into one, of Yapese lexicography.  I reflected on the providences of my life that had led to this calling.  I had myself done much toward making the job in Yap possible, for in 1975 I had spent two weeks in Yap talking about language work and it had been a result of that trip that had prompted the Yap Department of Education to bring me there to work.

The reasons why we left were several, but central to them had been the fact that I was doing less and less Yapese dictionary work, more and more computing for the Education Department - and I found, in fact, the computing work to be far more fascinating than the linguistic work.

Yet I know that I had somewhat of a bad conscience in leaving.  I told myself - and told some people in Yap - that in five years I would have persuaded my Reformed church in New Zealand to send me back to Yap to finish the Bible translation work that had been partly-, and well-, done by Sister Thieme and Sister Eberhardt of the Liebenzellermission.

This was certainly self-deception.  I could have known that the Reformed church in New Zealand was not going to work together with anything but a fully Reformed group in Yap - and there was no possibility of such a group being able to work in Yap.  The reality was that I wanted very badly to work in computing.  When, in 1983, a computing job was offered me, I accepted it.  We arrived back in New Zealand on our 12th wedding anniversary, 20th May 1984.

I tell the story in order to say what I believe - that God's calling to us works through our own choices - and even, at times, through our less-than-righteous choices.  The work I persuaded the Yap Department of Education to bring me there to do came to nothing in the end (at least as far as Yap is concerned.  I am working on trying to get the materials we produced onto the web for the use of linguists).  The idea that I would go back to Yap as a missionary was a sop I fed to my troubled conscience to excuse my following the 'desires of my heart.'

Yet it is transparently obvious that our situation in Yap was bad for us as a family.  Due in part to the isolation - and in far greater part to the religious isolation of my narrow Calvinism - my wife and children suffered, would, at least, have been badly served by being kept in that situation.

And far, far above any other benefit of our return to New Zealand, we were here brought to the Catholic Church, to the incomparable blessings of the fullness of the Gospel, of the Sacraments, of the Body of Christ.  It is, indeed, ironic that we left the mostly-Catholic island of Yap and returned to the once-mostly-Protestant-now-mostly-secularised New Zealand in order to find the Church.  Whether this would have been necessary is a meaningless question.  C. S. Lewis, in one of the Narnia books, has Aslan tell the children, "We are never told what would have been."  As the (very Calvinist :-)) Westminster Confession of Faith beautifully puts it:
God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass;978978Eph. i. 11; Rom. xi. 33; Heb. vi. 17; Rom. ix. 15,18. yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin,979979James i. 13,17; 1 John i. 5; [Am. ed. Eccl. vii. 29]. nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
Or as St Paul puts it in Romans 11:29:
...the gifts and calling of God are without repentance.
My indecision and self-seeking in some of my 'callings' - seeking the 'desires of my heart' - have not always made me easy at mind.  This has been, in fact, because of the self-seeking.  But at bottom, we must decide - we must decide.  I do not doubt that God grants to some that certainty of mind, even those 'interior locutions' that are spoken of.  He does not lead most of us that way.  Rather, He wants us to love him above all thgs  Then the decisions we make will not make us unhappy (I John 4;18):
...perfect love casteth out fear.
In the words of Our Lord (Matthew 6:33):
But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Thy will be done!

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