Book Review – A Sacred Voice is Calling: Personal Vocation and Social Conscience by John Neafsey

by Mark Votava


This is definitely a must read book!  John Neafsey looks at the calling to find meaning in life through our authenticity and social conscience in the world.  So much of our work in the world is meaningless and all about getting the most profit we can.  We are being called to a consciousness of compassion, empathy, love and opting for the poor.

Wisdom is on every page of this book as it addresses us both individually and collectively.  Listening to the voice of love within us is so important to be true to ourselves.  John Neafsey goes through 8 different aspects of discovering personal vocation and social conscience: listening, discernment, authenticity, compassion, vision, suffering, conscience and awakening from the sleep of inhumanity.

I picked this book up because it was recommended by Phileena Heuertz, the co-founder of The Gravity Center (a center for contemplative activism in Omaha, Nebraska).  A Sacred Voice is Calling is one of her favorite books she recommends on contemplative activism.  I am so thankful that I read the book!  There is a balance to this book on cultivating our own personal vocation as an individual and also awakening to a social consciousness in the world we live in.

I love the focus on living out the way of the wounded healer.  The wounded healer is one who uses their wounds in life to help others with similar wounds.  Our wounds are not wasted, but allow us to be broken open for the world in love, compassion and empathy.

We are called to social analysis of how we have participated in, supported and benefitted from status quo systems that oppress others bringing exploitation to our world.  This is valuable because our social consciousness is often times given little attention in our spirituality.  But the world matters and we are called to be true to ourselves through working toward the collective good of the communities we live in.

I feel like I have greater understanding and clarity around engaging the world with authenticity.  This book was a guide in helping me to become aware of my true self.  A Sacred Voice is Calling was instrumental in guiding me to look inside of myself and find a sense of love for the world I live in.

  • The scandal of unjust poverty

“God is always trying to get us to pay attention to the scandal of unjust poverty, the deprivations of basic human rights (enough food to survive and thrive, decent housing, education, medical care) that are the daily reality of most of our brothers and sisters in the world…”

  • Something worth listening for

“The image of the still, small voice resonates deeply with many people.  It seems to capture something of the depth and nuance and mystery of the inner voice, the patience and practice it takes to hear it, and our intuition that there really is something worth listening for beneath the noise and activity on the surface of our lives…”

  • Listening for the voice of vocation

“Listening for the voice of vocation, we inevitably encounter a conflicting mix of voices within ourselves and in our world that beckon us in many possible directions.  Which of these we allow to influence our choices will have profound implications, for better or for worse, not only for the quality of our own lives, but also for the future well-being of our loved ones, our communities, and the wider world.”

  • Participating in, supporting, or benefitting from an unjust status quo

“An important element of social analysis has to do with our capacity to question and critically examine our own social position or location in the world.  Though we may be a ‘good person’ who means well, justice still requires that we take a hard look at the ways we may be unconsciously participating in, supporting, or benefitting from an unjust status quo that gives unfair, unearned advantages to privileged persons in our society (e.g., because we are white, or male, of a certain social class, etc.).  It is necessary for us to do this so we can break free of cultural and institutional patterns of ignorance and complacency that hold us back from being truly just and compassionate persons.”

  • The call to authenticity

“…genuine callings are grounded in a sense of personal authenticity, in the God honest truth of who we are.  The call to authenticity is about knowing ourselves and being ourselves…”

  • We do not discover ourselves in isolation

“We are also faced with the complex challenge of achieving an honest integration of personal authenticity and social responsibility.  We do not discover ourselves in isolation, but only within the complex web of relationships and forces that make up the social context of the world in which we live.  Justice requires courageous attention to both individual and collective truth, a discerning awareness of our personal inner truth and a critical consciousness of the larger, collective realities of social sin and social suffering in our world.”

  • Learning to recognize our own depth

“Learning to recognize our own depth requires that we become comfortable and at home with the affective, nonrational dimension of ourselves.  Conscious awareness of our inner emotional experience helps us to become more receptive and attuned to the messages of our inmost self or conscience, which tends to speak in a language that is different from the linear, logical process of our rational mind or consciousness…”

  • Collective dimensions to empathy and compassion

“Beyond the one-to-one connection, there are collective dimensions to empathy and compassion.  Sometimes we have a special feeling for whole groups of people or communities.  Because of our unique personal backgrounds and histories, our hearts may be particularly responsive to certain kinds of people or problems.  Universal compassion for all humanity is a worthy ideal, but on a practical level most people are more likely to personally identify with the sufferings or aspirations of certain groups of people (e.g., children with special needs, oppressed minorities, victims of hunger or war).  Sometimes very specific vocations grow out of a feeling of ‘suffering with’ particular groups of others.  Compassion and our sense of social justice are related in the sense that compassion helps us to appreciate how certain unjust conditions, policies, and ideologies hurt and deprive particular groups of people.”

  • Cultivating our capacity for prophetic imagination

“Each of us, in our own way, is called to cultivate our capacity for prophetic imagination, to find our own way of making the Dream of God a reality.”

  • Love entails pain and risk

“The call to love also entails pain and risk.  We experience growing pains with every step we take in the direction of becoming more loving persons, with every increase in our capacity to give and receive genuine love…”

  • The way of the wounded healer

“Sometimes callings originate in painful life experiences that serve as a kind of initiation into the way of the wounded healer – the person whose sufferings become a source of healing to others.”

  • A way of being true to ourselves

“Taking the risk of saying ‘Yes’ to a call is itself a form of obedience, in the sense not of submitting to a law or expectation imposed on us by external authority but of surrendering ourselves to the internal authority of our true self, our conscience, our secret ‘heart.’  We obey by letting the Voice guide our choices, by allowing it to have a say in our lives.  Following a call, in this sense, is a way of being true to ourselves…”

  • An uneasy conscience may be one of the best places to listen

“…an uneasy conscience may be one of the best places to listen for the whisper of the Spirit that calls to us in a better way.”

  • Realizing our full humanity

“All of us are called to opt for the poor, to open our hearts to the poor, to do something with our lives that will make a difference for the better in theirs.  The secret to salvation, to realizing our full humanity, is to find our own way to exercise this option in a meaningful way…”

  • Success is measured by “upward mobility”

“By conventional cultural standards, success is measured by the yardstick of ‘upward mobility.’  The call of compassion, however, sometimes beckons us in a countercultural direction.  Contrary to our expectation that we will be carried upwards, we experience instead an unsettling downward pull…”

Have you found a personal vocation and a social conscience?