Glory and Work – Pastor’s Reflection (May 1, 2016)
The date of this week’s letter struck me as I sat down to write. The Sixth Sunday of Easter falls on the First of May, and for some reason May Day has not struck a chord in some time. Two, seemingly opposed, associations vie within me for sway over this time. The first of these to strike me as a lover of the Middle Ages is release. Famously this is the day of “Maying.” Images come to mind of villagers dancing around a maypole and of young people frolicking in fields and forests. Here was the convention of unshouldering convention! Julie Andrews, playing Guinevere in the musical, Camelot, summed it all up when she sang of the, “lusty month of May.”
Somehow in the midst of this natural resurgence, May 1st also became associated with workers and workers rights. My mind will always mark the day with pictures of great processions though Red Square in the presence of a grim Politburo massed on the roof of Lenin’s Tomb.
The marching urban proletariat seems so far from the vernal revels of an earlier age. But the Industrial Workers of the World website made a link for me by pointing out that the May Day workers’ observances began in this country to mark the achievement of the eight-hour day. In effect workers were recovering the opportunity to take in Spring and all the natural and human flourishing it represents.
Here, we face work and play as a very adult issue, and, I would suggest, a very timely one. Part of my ministry consists in listening to people and in observing them. As I do so, I see the relationship of men and women to their work as growing less and less comfortable. Most drastically, so many people seem to have lost the opportunity to work as technology has supplanted the work they did. No doubt I would have observed such results at other moments of “paradigm shift.” Nevertheless, the human cost of progress, particularly at the expense of the middle aged and elderly, staggers me.
Even those who do have work, even lucrative work, report longer hours and shorter certainties. With the fading of long-term commitments between employees and employers, there is less security to go around. Finally, within any kind of work interruption circumscribes more and more the concentration necessary for clear and creative thinking.
The foregoing means that work less and less makes for real leisure, that is the opportunity for sustained periods away from labor, and from anxiety and competition. From these hours and days of leisure comes the renewal of the creative impulse. How many institutions rely on leisure for their existence? Think of the opera and the symphony, the baseball team and the needlepoint shop. Then there is the Rotary Club, the PTA, the arts association, the after work softball league, and of course, the Church. All of these balance work with different ways of thinking and acting that make for emotional and intellectual balance.
I cannot wonder how much the fractured life of work has to do with the surprises this election cycle is meting out to the pundits and the public. More and more people across the demographic spectrum seem to vote and opine from a place of fundamental imbalance: they do not find equilibrium in their environment or in themselves.
Certainly it is not my place either to propose, or to endorse a response to this set of challenges. However, I do believe the Gospel of Christ responds to this situation with a consolation and a challenge, and it delivers both in the truth we celebrate with great solemnity this Thursday, May 5. In His Ascension Christ does not leave His humanity behind but takes it with Him. Jesus fully human, but with a humanity fully transformed, now simply enjoys God in a way that totally engages and fulfills Him. In the life of glory, He enjoys unqualified leisure. His triumph discloses that we were created, and recreated in baptism not for work, but for leisure. Stand our years of terrestrial striving alongside the leisure that is our destiny and marvel the altered view of us that the comparison yields.
The leisure of eternity does not follow earthly work in chronological sequence. Rather, the sacramental life reshapes us now for an entirely fresh perspective on the reality of work. In light of the Resurrection we can discern that our labor itself prepares us for the end of labor. Work has an effect on our character, and Christ lays hold of it to make us ready for the enjoyment of God. Those fulfilled in their work recognize the gift of leisure not as an escape, but as a complement and renewal. Real leisure does not check out of reality but engages it more and more completely. Just so, those in heaven are not “couch potatoes” before the beatific vision, rather they are energized by it in every part of their glorified selves.
Thus, for us to profit fully from the potential of this stage of our lives, we need both meaningful activity and engaging non-activity. Herein lies that sequence of a balanced natural life and super-natural life ordered profoundly to the awareness and the movement toward God the mark Christian humanity at its best.
So, as citizens of this nation, and as citizens of heaven in the making, we hope that society’s advance can include more people finding good work, and non-work.