Yesterday, we watched the first in the latest series of Who Do You Think You Are? (actor Jodie Whittaker), in which people in the public eye discover the stories behind their family tree. This often involves the de-bunking of family stories, passed down the generations in Chinese whispers or arising from adding 2+2 and getting 5. Also, the processing of new information, a dismantling and the construction of a new (though equally partial) meaningful story.
Yesterday, I also took part in the funeral of a man who had started out working for the Gas Board, later retrained as a teacher, and had an active retirement.
Also in the ether, much chatter around the inevitable pressure of (Austerity and Brexit and) Covid 19 to require some people to retrain—some unhappily so; others, as welcome opportunity—along with questions as to which forms of work are valued by society, and which are not.
And it causes me to wonder, what, if anything, happens when our vocation is co-opted by others for their construction of meaning?
This coming Sunday is the Feast of St Luke, who wrote the Gospel According to Luke (a biography of Jesus) and its sequel, the Acts of the Apostles (a biography of the early Church). From early on, Luke is identified as a physician, essentially on the basis that in one of his letters Paul refers to Luke the physician. It is often noted that he has a particular interest in healing miracles, but there is no real evidence to support this confirmation bias. What if Paul writes ‘the physician’ to distinguish one Luke from another, from the better-known man of the same name?
Luke the author inserts himself as a character in three distinct sections of the second half of Acts, switching from third-person to first-person narration.
The first recounts a sea journey from Troas to Samothrace, Neapolis, and Philippi.
The second is concerned with a sea journey from Philippi to Troas, Assos, Mitylene, opposite Chios, Samos, Miletus, Cos, Rhodes, Patara, (off Cyprus), Tyre, Ptolemais, Caesarea, and on inland to Jerusalem.
The third describes in great detail a sea journey from Caesarea to Sidon, (off Cyprus), Myra, off Cnidus, off Salmone, Fair Havens near Lasea, past Crete, off Cauda, and ending in shipwreck at Malta…
…and, three months later, in a second attempt to get to their original intended end point of Rome, a fourth sea journey from Malta to Syracuse, Rhegium, Puteoli, and on by land to Rome.
It is clear that Luke, who appears in the account whenever a sea journey takes place, is not only an eye-witness but an expert witness, a sailor who understands ships and the Mediterranean.
But Luke the merchant seaman, who served the Church in somehow facilitating Paul’s missionary journeys—and who perhaps turned his back on the sea to become a biographer—is later retrained to be Luke the posthumous physician, patron saint of physicians. Rethought. Reskilled. Rebooted.
Was the Church in need of a patron saint of physicians? And, today, are we in need of a new meaningful story, of exploration around the coast, the liminal edges of chaos (the great Sea) and shelter (the harbour)? Of surviving being lost at sea, and shipwrecked?
Or, for those working on the frontline of the NHS at present, a physician-seaman, a ship’s doctor?
What, if anything, happens when our vocation is co-opted by others for their construction of meaning?