My family are faithful patrons of a salon owned and operated by our friend Erin. She is living her vocational holiness through her award-winning salon. She employs many gifted stylists. The stylist who cuts my hair every few weeks is Rachael. While visiting her chair a recently, we discussed my writing projects and ministry responsibilities. To encourage me she said, “That seems like holy work.” I responded, “Rachael, your work is holy too!”
She seemed unsure about my proclamation. As we discussed the holiness of her vocation she said, “You should write about that!”
I accepted the challenge by writing a letter proclaiming why she and her vocation are holy. Below is an edited and condensed version of that letter used with permission. We hope it encourages you to embrace your inherent holiness and celebrate your vocational calling.
For my friend Rachael,
Your work is holy. Your vocational calling as a stylist and beautician in a salon is sacred. It is what you are good at and it matters that you do it well.
Jobs and careers become vocations when we connect what we do with God’s kingdom vision for the world. Of course, there are aspects of every vocation that involve a level of grinding out the mundane. The mastery of any craft takes long hours of repetitive practice and failure before learning to harness the nuances of your talents. Thousands of hours, perhaps years of your life, have been shaped by repetitive acts standing behind chairs manipulating shears and leaning over basins mixing dyes until your very soul mastered the movements.
Too often, well-meaning people inside and outside the church guide us into believing the most meaningful work in life are sacred vocations like clergy, missionaries, professors, and other fields within the church. Such work is unique, but they are no more holy than other vocations. The main purpose of these institutional vocations is to prepare the saints for their works of service (Ephesians 4:11-12), not to clone people into the roles they currently fill.
Holiness does not consist of moral lists we obey to be more like the divine. God already declares that you are holy by being an image bearer of God (Genesis 1:27). Holiness is not defined by how well we imitate God; rather, God makes people holy by identifying himself through his people. Holiness is a status that is conferred; it cannot be earned, acquired, or lost.
Our vocation is to be co-creators with God by stewarding creation as God intended. The best way to make work matter is to immerse what we do in the kingdom vision of Christ.
There are so many levels at which your work is sacred. Ranking them into levels of importance is unnecessary, for they are all important. Your vocation is less a set of tasks as it is a divine dance. Each element touching and informing the other as they engage the kingdom in toe-tapping rhythm with the Trinity.
Like a liturgy the dance begins with a welcome and a summons to the sacred. You prepare the tools of your trade and the work begins when the cloak is in place. Shears and clippers, water and dye, conversation and conversion. If scriptural reflection is about holding a mirror up to our souls, then the sitting before a mirror as our appearance shifts in real time is equally reflective as layers of are shed and new life is revealed one snip, one brush stroke, one color at a time.
Body image is of paramount importance and often a fickle foe. Too many of us are filled with self-doubt and low self-worth. You convey the inherit inner beauty of each person with artistic expression filled with unique personality for all to see. Perhaps most importantly, for the client themselves to see. Like a sculpture who frees a work of art from a slab of marble, you free us to glimpse our true selves, people made in the image of God. Each cut also a reflection of you, for your technique and style are infused into every experience. It is an amazing gift, and it is holy.
Another gift you provide is that of listening to the stories of others. You listen as people share the tapestry of their lives in short segments. Over the course of months and years, a client will share countless moments with you. In a holy intimacy you hold them in a sacred trust. You share bits and pieces of yourself along the way inviting others into your story. This story-syncing process builds community and strengthens our connection to one another and to the divine.
I am not sure we always understand holiness as integration. Holiness is often misunderstood as a separated other. But holiness is truly about integrating our lived experience with the active presence of the divine as we participate in the kingdom. Holiness is not a separate other reality but rather a working within reality to reflect the proper creative goodness of the One who put it in place.
You provide this integration when you live your vocational life. It is not just a job. It is more than a career. It is who you are made to be. Vocational holiness is the intersection of your deep gladness meeting kingdom presence. It is what you are good at and it matters that you do it well. Your work is holy.
The work complete, the inner and outer self united, you offer a final benediction as you remove the cloak and send us back into the world with confidence and new perspectives. We go to live our kingdom purpose in wholeness. Just as you have lived yours by preparing us. We need these rhythmic visits alongside the church because they both provide us with a fuller understanding of who we are in relation to God, to ourselves, and to the world.
Thank you for your sacred service.
Celebrate Rachael’s vocational holiness
Celebrate Erin’s vocational holiness
Rev. Dr. Greg Mamula is the Associate Executive Minister for the American Baptist Churches of Nebraska, and a contributing writer for Word&Way. He is author of Table Life: An Invitation to Everyday Discipleship, published by Judson Press in print and e-reader versions from online distributers including Amazon. To learn more information visit www.table-life.org.