Occupation and Occupancy

In signing a document as witness, or making application for some official permit, as for instance a passport to go abroad, sooner or later you come to a space that has to be filled in, and at the side is a word "Occupation." The writer pauses—how does he wish himself to be designated?

A man who designates himself "Esquire" has in fact no shadow of justification for giving this as his occupation, for he bears no shield, as in olden time, neither does he belong to the retinue of any knight. And if the unmarried woman enters "Spinster" as her occupation she too knows well enough that spinning the thread from which the household cloth is to be woven is not her normal pursuit. These terms nowadays are purely complimentary, and, therefore, if you are particular about such matters, it is necessary to consider again what your occupation really is. Even designations which are usually considered adequate, such as lawyer, merchant, clergyman, and so forth, will not satisfy the more exacting conscience, because to appear to be any of these things in the eyes of the world need not necessarily mean that one finds them in any real sense one's occupation.

When Jonah, fast asleep in the sides of the ship, which was battling with the tempest, first attracted the notice of the sailors, they awakened him and began to question him, "What is thine occupation? and whence comest thou?" His reply is astonishing: "I am an Hebrew; and I fear the Lord, the God of heaven." Can you call that an occupation? Evidently Jonah considered that it was, and he knew quite well that at that very moment he had been unfaithful to his occupation and in so doing had merited the calamity that appeared to be threatening the ship and all who sailed in her. But, nowadays, could Jonah's declaration of his occupation be taken seriously? Suppose one were to enter in that space on the official paper, "I fear God and keep His commandments," would that be accepted as a sufficient occupation? It seems very doubtful, in spite of the fact that one could cite Biblical authority for pointing out that this is the whole duty of man, and therefore occupation enough for anyone.

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Expecting Harmony
February 13, 1943

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