Labor Day: The Holiness of Work

This blog is a work in progress. Some things I simply haven’t figured out how to do yet or have tried and failed. For now, posts are on this page.

Excerpts from a Labor Day interview in 2005:

What is your theological understanding of the meaning of work?

Nancy:  To begin with a theology of work, start with the first chapter of Genesis! God is at work creating the universe and everything in it. God calls it all good and takes satisfaction in the results. In fact, Sabbath is a time for God to enjoy what God has created! Then God creates human beings and invites them to participate by caring for creation.

Work is a natural activity: “And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed…. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.” (Genesis 2:8, 15)

On the other hand, from reading Genesis 3:17-19 we may get the idea that work itself is punishment: “With labour you shall win your food … You shall gain your bread by the sweat of your brow.” (Genesis 3:19, NRSV) A careful study of the text shows that because of their disobedience to God, Adam and Eve are told that it is the process of performing work that will become difficult and painful. The reality of work has already been blessed by God.

You seem to place a lot of emphasis on economic justice. What is the relationship between economic justice and spirituality?

Nancy:  Economic justice is central throughout the Jewish and Christian Scriptures. (See Isaiah 58:6-7, Amos 5:21-24, and I John 3:17.) Justice depends on the grounding of the individual in the knowledge of the love of God. It is only when a person knows God’s boundless, steadfast love intimately that he or she is grounded in abundance rather than in scarcity. It is only when a person knows that he or she belongs to, and is one with, the Creator of the Universe that he or she can truly be a channel of God’s abundant love and be able “to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

The message of Christ is that anything that stops the flow of blessings, of goodness, of material goods, also stops the flow of life itself! The containers that only receive become like the Dead Sea. The barns that can only hold grain that will surely ferment and spoil. It isn’t God’s vengeance that warns the rich man that his life shall be demanded of him (Luke 12:20-21) – it is a rule of life itself: Life is maintained and furthered only when the channels of reciprocity are kept open.

Does work have a different meaning and significance for those who mop floors or dig ditches as compared to those of us who get paid for sitting behind desks, talking on the telephone, and having meetings?

Nancy:  That depends on whether we have chosen the work we do or have been forced into it by financial necessity. It’s true that our society seems to value the desk-sitters more than those whose labor is physical – including the very physical work of parenting. But those who choose to provide a direct service, or who work directly with the earth, or who are artisans or craftspeople, can be especially blessed in their role as Christ-like servants or direct caretakers of God’s creation or hands-on co-creators with God.

We tend to forget that ours is an incarnational faith – an embodied, physical faith! We cut ourselves off from this incarnational understanding of God when we fail to use our bodies or when we use only our minds or our “mouse-hands!” And we cut ourselves off from our own humanity (from humus, meaning earth) when we do little or none of the labor that is necessary to maintain our own physical lives.


About Nancy Smith

Nancy Smith has 20 years’ experience in technical writing and management in software companies. She also has more than 20 years in Christian ministry as an educator, course designer, retreat leader, spiritual director, pastor, and coach. A United Methodist Deacon, Smith has her M.Div. from Boston University. She is a graduate of the Guild for Spiritual Guidance, and is certified in Spiritual Direction and Retreat Leadership from Boston College.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s