Sunday, January 30, 2011

The subject of work

Here are 2 quotes from one of my favorite authors, Sr. Joan Chittister, OSB

"Benedictines were to `earn their bread by the labor of their hands,' and no devotion was to take the place of the demands of lifeā€¦ At the same time, work is not what defines the Benedictine. It is the single-minded search for God that defines Benedictine spirituality." (The Rule of St. Benedict: Insights for the Ages, p. 134)

"Manual labor is humility in practice." (Wisdom from the Daily, p.179)

Work and I have not had a good relationship for most of my life. I had a career that I accidentally feel into that started as a part time job while in seminary. My last year in seminary I had such health issues that I abandoned my dream of getting a Ph.D and instead explored this line of work. I was middle management in no time.

But I hated what I was doing. The American corporate workplace was a toxic environment for me. It made me sick and sicker and finally so sick I had to apply for permanent disability. While in seminary, I had made private vows to God as a solitary and the contrast between the values of the workplace and my religious life were too great. It created a cognitive dissonance I was unable to live with.

After I became disabled, my work was to learn to manage my symptoms and that was a work that made sense. In a way, this was a work that was also the search for God. Once the symptoms were managed, the voice of the Holy Spirit was much easier to hear. I had sought God all my life, but this was taking me someplace new. To out as it were, to be a witness for Christ. To demonstrate how faithful the Lord is. He heard my vows in 1982, He stuck with me as I became more and more mentally ill, He brought me through to the other side and now in my community He has made me a witness to demonstrate what it means to live a life solely for Him.

But He was not done with me. He has called me to iconography. I stumbled across a class being taught in the Diocese. The teacher allowed me to take it at 1/4 the asking price. George Bush had just sent me economic stimulus money so I was able to afford that small fee. And I was hooked. I remember writing to a correspondent and saying that iconography was in my blood.

My rector was the one who identified this as a gift of the Holy Spirit and something he was compelled to support. He gave me an empty office at the church to use as a studio, bought me paint and boards and talked to the Vestry and they decided to invest in my training and sent me to Pecos NM for three weeks where I met Br Peter.

Now my work is iconography and knitting. Both are in service to the Lord and my church. Every icon belongs to the church. My knitting is sold at our fundraiser. 100% of proceeds from the icon and knitting go to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick etc. I cannot begin to tell you the level of gratitude I feel that I am allowed to have a small part in my parish's endeavor to be the hands and feet of the Lord in the world.

My work is prayer. My work is part of my search for God. Doing my work takes me straight to contemplation. Joseph Campbell would say I had found my bliss. But it is only blissful because God is so intimately involved in it.


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