We have been discussing the archetype of light during this solstice, Chanukah, and Christmas season. We have also been discussing the powerful role that light imagery plays in Celtic, African, Hindu, Buddhist philosophies as well.
One important lesson I learned while writing my book on world spiritualities, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, is that the Number One symbol or metaphor for Divinity around the world is: Light..
In a recent meditation I proposed that maybe we ought to start looking on Christmas as a verb more than a noun. Just as we need to look at the words Justice, Love and Compassion as verbs more than nouns.
How are we working to bring Justice alive when injustice reigns? love alive when hatred reigns? Compassion alive when coldness of heart reigns? Truth alive when lies and falsehoods reign?
I am proposing that the deepest meaning of this season may be evoked by asking this question: What light are humans choosing to bring to the world in its darkened state today? And how best do we do it? Maybe Light itself needs to be understood as a verb.
I believe it is through our work and work worlds that most of us are called to bring light alive in our culture and in history. Consider the many prophetic voices we have treated the past eight months in our Meditations. People bringing light to education, to engineering, to art, to community-making among the poor, to humor and foolery, to activism, etc.
In my study on The Reinvention of Work I drew on the wisdom of traditions around the world to learn what they had to say about work. I was struck by how much they had to say and how much a consensus they offered about work.
For example, all agree that Joy, the Via Positiva, is central to work. The Tao Te Ching says simply: “In work, do what you enjoy.” The Bhagavad Gita says: “They all attain perfection when they find joy in their work.” Thomas Aquinas says: “Always rejoice in the good work that you do.”
I believe our work is the primary avenue by which we bring our Light and Wisdom into the world.
Consider too what British economist E. F. Schumacher says in his classic work Small is Beautiful. “Everywhere people ask: ‘What can I actually do?’
The answer is as simple as it is disconcerting: We can, each of us, work to put our own inner house in order.
The guidance we need for this work cannot be found in science or technology, the value of which utterly depends on the ends they serve; but it can still be found in the traditional wisdom of [humankind].”
See Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths
Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time, p. 19
Banner Image: Faith leaders pray with No More Deaths‘ Scott Warren during his trial for leaving water for undocumented refugees in the Arizona desert. After the jury failed to reach a verdict, he was retried and found not guilty in November, 2019. Photo by uusc4all on Flickr.
Queries for Contemplation
How is your work or your profession a “light for the world”? How is it failing in being so? How can you remedy those failures, reinvent your work or profession?
Do you agree that Joy is central to work? (Of course a job is not necessarily work; a job pays the bills; work is why one is here.)
Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.
Thomas Aquinas said, “To live well is to work well,” and in this bold call for the revitalization of daily work, Fox shares his vision of a world where our personal and professional lives are celebrated in harmony–a world where the self is not sacrificed for a job but is sanctified by authentic “soul work.”