Hey everyone! Here’s a random, rather rambling essay containing some of my recent contemplations on the goodness of work. Especially when it is back among the old ways of garden and kitchen… Joel and I head out tomorrow for lunch and a tour of a nearby manor house with a gracious older gentleman from the nearby village. I met him during a lecture and ensuing debate on art and standards of beauty and he very graciously invited us for Sunday dinner. So I’m sure I’ll have a lovely tale to tell soon. Until then, happy summer day to you and may God “confirm to you the work of your hands” as he has of late to me…
There is an innate human resistance to the idea of work; especially to the demand of physical labor. It is all too present in my heart. Contemplation is so much easier a task than the forcing of my fleshly hands to the tilling of ground, the making of food, the cleaning of a house. Of course I do work hard; few people have much of a choice, and I do it with an admirable sense of duty, telling myself that this is part of the ebb and flow of life in a fallen world. Something is always falling apart and always needing to be put back together again.
But my days here in the quiet of this rambling house have shown me work in a new light. Perhaps I have simply seen it as it was meant to be. I have been advised in romantic matters to be sure and see a man in his own environment before making any hasty judgments and oddly enough, I feel that way about work. Initially, it repulses me with its demand on my time and personal thought, but here I am reconnected with work as it was in the beginning. I am seeing labor in its native environment and am strangely attracted. Living as I am amidst an earthy, rhythmic reality of daily labor, I have found a goodness in work that I had long forgotten.
Because this is an old house that runs quite counter to much modern thought and technology, I feel that I have travelled back in time and been set down again in the middle of God’s own reality: in the presence of wood and stone and water, of fresh vegetables from the garden and crisp sheets dried by the wind. Removed from the usual electric whir of machines and convenience, work here takes time, and it is the accomplishment of a morning to peel buckets of vegetables, to pick lettuce from the garden and hand wash the old dishes. I am connected in a present, consequential way to the fruit of my labor and it is strangely delightful.
But I am also beginning to think that it is necessary; that physical labor is needful to the right living of a holy life. And the discovery is strangely exciting.
I first realized this as I was cooking one dappled morning in the solitude of a small kitchen. A quiet came to me, a rest in the round of my mundane tasks that astonished me with its refreshment. The constant whir of my introspection and frenzied thought finally slowed. I think that our culture has a societal ADD because of the ceaseless march of activity, technology and constant distraction. I have found more and more in the past years that my brain is in a near constant state of rush. But physical labor, apart from ever-present technology, stops me in my tracks, slows the whir of my busy thoughts. This earthy labor of hand, head and muscle forces me to step aside from the flood of my activity and sit for awhile in the quiet. The rhythmic labor of my hands is restful and the absence of entertainment or distraction eases my brain into a much needed quiet. Work, I have decided is a necessary stop to my modern craze.
But it has also humbled me. And that realization struck deep. It would be easy, especially in this environment of study, to be caught in an endless round of introspection that convinced me of my own importance. There is, in our postmodern culture, a real tendency towards narcissism in our quest for truth and meaning. It is easy to become increasingly self-centered as a result of uninterrupted hours of introspection.
But work reminds me that I am one of many and that true understanding requires me to serve. Work sets me back in the center of community, drawing me out of the tunnel of my own thought into the incarnational reality of my family and the people with whom I share my life. I am simply one more thinker, one more worker, no more or less important than any of the other eternal souls perched around the house. We are all required to love, to work, to consider, but we are also required to serve. The Christian life isn’t just about the thinking up of grand thoughts or the culling of insightful Truth. It is centered on a kingdom made real through the love and thought and work of all those who love God.
After all, life in God is really just all about Love incarnate; in Christ, and in us, His people. We make Him real through the effort of our minds and muscles, head and hands and heart. His grace becomes tangible through the lives we live. It is all too easy to drop the tangible half and claim the autonomy of deep thought alone. Work, daily, rhythmic work, forbids it, reminding me once again that I am one more soul in a kingdom that will one day embrace the world.
So it’s good. Work, I mean. And I am determined to live a little more in the grace of its reality, to actually give thanks now and then for the grace of labor. I even intend to remember this when I am home. Now, if I can only remember that next time I wash the dishes (by hand)…