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. 

Originally an aspect of the sun god Ra in the 2nd Dynasty (2890-2686 BCE), the solar disk was honored in ancient Egypt for millennia, becoming the focus of the country’s first monotheistic religion under the pharaoh Akhenaten. Image by AtonX on Wikimedia Commons

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. 

Sea-Watch Captain Carola Rackete Captain Carola Rackete rescued 53 Syrian refugees in the Mediterranean, and was subsequently arrested upon docking after a two-week standoff with Italian police. Photo by Paul Lovis Wagner / Sea-Watch.org on Wikimedia Commons

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.

Political satirist Jon Stewart made The Daily Show a voice of humor, outrage and compassion from 1999 to 2015, inspiring satirists Steven Colbert and Trevor Noah, before resigning to run a sanctuary for abused animals. Photo by MyEyeSees on Flickr.

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. 

Precious Phiri, educator/developer in regenerative agricultural practices and community organizing, helps rural African communities reduce poverty, restore dignity, rebuild soils, and restore food and water security. Photo from LandHealers.org

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?’ 

Author/activist/educator Dr. Vandana Shiva’s “Declaration on Seed Freedom” is an international pledge to support global bio/cultural diversity and food security through seed saving, community seed banks and exchanges. Photo from Eco-Justice Collaborative.

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.)

Recommended Reading

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.”

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4 thoughts on “Light and Human Work”

  1. Avatar

    Thank you, dear Matthew Fox! I found your book “The Reinvention of Work” in a used bookstore in Chicago in 1995 during a time when I was unemployed and my only prospects were in fields in which I had no interest. I didn’t want a “job” to just pay the bills, I wanted to get paid for doing what I loved. Over the past 25 yrs, I’ve been frustrated by the work I love not paying a living wage. How can we get to a point in human/societal growth/evolution when everyone can do the work they love (or that brings uses their best qualities/skills/talents) and also earn enough money/payment to live? I’ve circled around and around this question and always end up concluding that we need a new economic model (not capitalism!) to live by.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Shell,
      Thank you for writing and lifting up this very personal and world-wide problem. I wonder what percentage of the world’s population is actually able to get a living wage for doing the work they love. (I mean, do we really want to think about who makes our cel phones and under what conditions?) And what kind of explosion of the human spirit would there be if suddenly every person was able to follow their true vocation with joy?

      My first experience with Matthew Fox was at conference in 1992. Times were hard. Unemployment was high. People who did have jobs were overworked. Matt said that in healthy cultures, people do labor for four hours a day and the rest of the day they make things, music, art, conversation, dance, etc. Under those conditions, everyone could be employed and self expressive. So there is another model that could work.

      I see that the younger generation is living towards a new, more healthy model of shared living and shared vocation in small pods and communities. As Capitalism breaks down, I hope these pods become the norm. I also hope that you find a way to use the work you love to help this shift happen. Or, at least say “YES!” in your heart any time you see evidence that our attitude towards labor is evolving.

      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  2. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew and all who like myself have come to know, love and find nurture in you to extend what you are doing by how we choose to live and work.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Thank you, David, on behalf of all of us who have felt Matt’s permission and encouragement to find joy in our work. Have we not been taught from an early age that work is drudgery? To please the great American work ethic, some of us earnestly take the joy out of our labor – and there is so much joy in just being able to accomplish something. We could just be amazed at the miracle of our bodies, no matter what the task. My fingers on this keyboard, for instance.

      So it takes someone to call it (Matt), and the rest of us to break the social seal and courageously enjoy what we do, or else courageously step out to find a way to do what we enjoy. It seems you have done this. May more follow your example.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditations Team

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