Often when I am asked to introduce myself I say that my day job is as an academic in the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at Stellenbosch University, but that I moonlight as a spiritual director. (The phrasing appeals to my sense of humour).
About eight years ago I was talking about leaving full time ministry as a spiritual director to return to chemistry. I developed a metaphor for myself about the handedness of spiritual direction and chemistry, saying that I felt as though chemistry was my right hand and spiritual direction my left. Being right handed it said something about my natural ability. A spiritual director colleague of mine challenged me on the placing of those skills. He argued that spiritual direction was my more dominant gift.
In these years since returning to chemistry I have occasionally returned to that image and that conversation. I am a perfectly good chemist, but my passion lies in spiritual direction. That has caused some interior conflict with the pervasive idea that one should be passionate about one’s work. I feel a little guilty that I am not more passionate about chemistry.
But in the last little while I have come to understand that chemistry serves a vital role in my life. There is something about the structure, the method and the gentle productivity which feeds my soul. It isn’t inspirational or terribly exciting, but it does provide a strong foundation, or perhaps a fertile ground, in which the rest of the things in which I am involved can thrive. (And I manage to do some good chemistry along the way)
I have found it very useful to see the importance of chemistry in my life. Perhaps making career choices aren’t just about following your passion, perhaps it is important to understand what provides the grounding for your life. For some people those things might coincide in one particular choice. But perhaps there are others like me too, who need different aspects to what they do in order sustain the passion.
I suppose I would say before leaping for your passion, ask yourself what gives a sense of satisfaction at the end a day? What are the things that you look for to say – today has been good or worthwhile? Would following your passion give you a regular supply of those kinds of things?
I guess what I am really trying to ask is – does your passion also feed the more pedestrian side of your soul?