Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Work is Good

Heading into Labor Day, I'm thinking about work. What's its meaning? What might it express of ourselves, of our faith? This includes some of my favorite quotes on work.


Jesuit and archeologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin reflections on the nature
of work resonate with me. Nothing of our work, said Teilhard, lies outside
the realm of the sacred and it all matters in the outcome of things.
Work and workplaces have been on my mind a lot lately.  Why do we work?  Do we work to work? To gain an income? To provide for our families? To express ourselves?  To learn?  To grow? To serve? To welcome God’s future? As co-laboring with God?  Why do you work?  Why do I work?  Perhaps it is one or a mix of these motivations.

WORK AS INSTRUMENTAL.  Listen to Parker Palmer mull over the question:  “Our capacity to take risks and learn from them depends heavily on whether we understand action as instrumental or expressive. The instrumental image portrays action as a means to predetermined ends, as an instrument or tool of our intentions.  The only possible measure of such action is whether it achieves the ends at which it is aimed.  Instrumental action always wants to win, but win or lose, it inhibits our learning. When the standards of instrumentalism dominate, our action is impoverished and our lives are diminished.” 

WORK AS EXPRESSIVE.  “Only when we act expressively do we move toward full aliveness and authentic power.  An expressive act is one that I take not to achieve a goal outside myself but to express a conviction, a leading, a truth that is within me. An expressive act is one taken because if I did not take it I would be denying my own insight, nature, gift.  By taking an expressive act, an act not obsessed with outcomes, I come closer to making the contribution that is mine to make in the scheme of things.” (from The Active Life, p. 24)

GOOD, WORLDLY WORK.  I remember the fear I had when, based on my freshly developed personal mission statement, I dared to come from behind the pulpit and walls of the church to step into the so-called “common world of work.” I did so not in denial of my calling or ordination, but in a sense of leaning into it more fully. At that point, for me to remain as a parish pastor would have been hiding or shrinking back from things I needed to learn, explore, and, perhaps, contribute.  My training for ministry prepared me to see ministerial and church activity as sacred work, but I have since discovered that “common, ordinary work” is also--and perhaps especially--the arena of sacredness.  But I have discovered that many ministers and “lay people” do not realize or seem to express this.

GERARD MANLY HOPKINS ON WORK.  I like this reflection by Gerard Manly Hopkins“It is not only prayer that gives God glory but work.  Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, painting a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty.  To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but a man with a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a slop-pail, give God glory too.  God is so great that all things give glory if you mean they should. So then, my brethren, live."

PRAYER FOR THE UNEMPLOYED.  “Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this community so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.”  from The Book of Common Prayer

PIERRE TEILHARD DE CHARDIN ON WORK.  "The closeness of our union with Him is in fact determined by the exact fulfillment of the least of our tasks.  God, in all that is most living and incarnate in Him, is not far away from us, altogether apart from the world we see, touch, hear, smell, and taste about us. Rather, He awaits us every instant in our action, in the work of the moment. There is a sense in which He is at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle-of my heart and of my thought.  By pressing the stroke, the line, or the stitch, on which I am engaged, to its ultimate natural finish, I shall lay hold of that last end toward which my innermost will tends." from The Divine Milieu

WORKING SONG. Hear 18th-century London laborers sing this Charles Wesley song as they walk to work:

Son of the carpenter, receive
     This humble work of mine;
Worth to my meanest labor give
     By joining it to Thine.

End of my ev’ry action Thou,
     In all things Thee I see.
Accept my hallowed labor now;
     I do it unto Thee.

Thy bright example I pursue,
     To Thee in all things rise;
And all I think or speak or do
     Is one great sacrifice.

Servant of all, to toil for man
     Thou didst not, Lord, refuse;
Thy majesty did not disdain
     To be employed for us.


John Franklin Hay 
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA 

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