The Tension between Inner and Outer Work

Recently a reader wrote that she felt troubled hearing about contemplation when there are so many people facing crisis including kids

“Social Distance.” A homeless woman in the COVID-19-evacuated community of Claremont, CA. Photo by Russ Allison Loar on Flickr.

…who don’t have food…for whom school was their place of safety and where they received hot meals. I think of women stuck home with their abusers. I think of all the people facing eviction, unable to pay bills because our society never believed their lives to be valuable. I think about the farm workers…. 

She asked: “How do we incorporate this tension?”

She is right of course. A moment of apocalypse like we are living through brings plenty of tension with it.  Contemplation needs to lead to action; yet action needs to flow from a deep place of love, goodness and Source. 

“Marlboro Man.” Photo by clod on Flickr

A crisis like the pandemic becomes a watershed for all the “tensions” we as a society may have refused to face over the years and centuries.  The “sins of our fathers” (and mothers) can pile up—and spill over. 

Take slavery and genocide and racism as examples along with ecocide and our neglect and abuse of Mother Earth. 

Observe how the rugged individualism mythos that characterizes so much of our value systems can easily take precedence over a sense of the common good. 

Observe the failures in health care access and the glaring and growing chasm between haves and have-nots. 

“Workers in a Hog Slaughter and Processing Plant” Image from U.S. GAO report “WORKPLACE SAFETY AND HEALTH: Additional Data Needed to Address Continued Hazards in the Meat and Poultry Industry,” U.S. Government Accountability Office 5/27/2016. Wikimedia Commons

A recent example is how workers at the White House are now afraid to go to work because COVID-19 has invaded—so workers there will receive regular testings. 

Yet the message from the WH to other workers is that they should just suck it up and go to work without testing or with minimal testing.  (Especially workers in meat processing plants, all of whom are poor and most of whom are people of color). 

This does not pass the justice test by any stretch of the imagination.

St. John of the Cross. Orleans Cathedral, France. Photo by Walwyn on Flickr.

Work is the place where our values most hit the road.  Work exposes what values we cherish and believe in.  Work may be the single greatest witness to our so-called beliefs.  And to our character. 

Too often a sentimental culture equates love with home life–but work?  It’s everyone for themselves.  Survival of the fittest.

What work do we do?  Whom do we serve by our work?  How are we expressing our love in our work? 

One of the gifts of the pandemic may prove to be an awakening consciousness about work.

Work is our love in action.  The mystics knew this and why inner work and outer work must marry.  

Here is how John of the Cross put it,

Forever at his door
I gave my heart and soul.  My fortune too.
I’ve no flock any more,
No other work in view.
My occupation: Love.  It’s all I do.

See Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood for Our Time, pp. 112, 296-312.

Banner image: “Poet.” Photo by Kat Stokes on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Can we say that “love is all I do” in our work?  How is our work an effort at love?  The people we honor today for their courage in assisting others during this pandemic from food growers and distributors to care givers at hospitals, do you see in them a valuable marriage of inner and outer work?

Recommended Reading

Natural Grace: Dialogues on Creation, Darkness, and the Soul in Spirituality and Science 
by Matthew Fox and Rupert Sheldrake

Natural Grace, a 208 page inspired dialogue between theologian Matthew Fox and scientist Rupert Sheldrake, unites wisdom and knowledge from unconventional angles. Considering themselves heretics in their own fields, Matthew and Rupert engage the conversation from postmodern and post-postmodern perspectives, deconstructing both religion and science—while setting the foundation for a new emerging worldview. Having outgrown the paradigms in which they were raised, both Fox and Sheldrake see it as part of their life missions to share the natural synthesis of spirituality and science rooted in a paradigm of evolutionary cosmology.

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16 thoughts on “The Tension between Inner and Outer Work”

  1. Avatar
    Dorothy Somers

    Looking forward to Daily Meditations. I had the privilege of participating in Matthew Fox’s seminars in the 1980’s

  2. Avatar

    I cannot see a better example of “work is love in action” than what our brave caretakers in hospitals and nursing homes, as well as the many who are helping others through food programs so lovingly cropping up all over the country to nourish the poor, and help the minority groups that have no other resources but the good-will and loving care of neighbors and people known and unknown.
    Even little children are participating and creating in ways of showing and giving love all over the place, sometimes guided by their parents, sometimes leading them.
    All are coming from the heart, which, whether they’re aware of it or not, requires some form of contemplation on their part, showing up as empathy and love in action. May more and more people join them to help this country become the truly loving people that the Statue of Liberty calls us to be.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Vivian,
      Thank you for bringing this up. The compassion showed for people on the medical teams and the people who have lost jobs and are hungry or fear homelessness is the compassion Matthew was talking about, coming directly from God as Spirit into the hearts of humans, inspiring us to do work in line with divine purpose. Have you found it easier to pay attention to others, animals, plant and soil with out all those distractions that we once thought so important? This time away gives us a prolonged opportunity to relax and be human – and what results? Love!
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Michele,
      Putting the situation about the inequality of access to COVID-19 testing in front of us is a form of compassionate action. We should all be out in the streets protesting this abuse of power and privilege. Keeping the story alive and the awareness that at this moment, people are being forced to prepare our foods under the threat of contracting COVID-19, is something we need to remember every hour and tell almost as often.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team,

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Thank you for this information. And you’re right, all should equally have the right to be tested.

  3. Avatar
    enrique brieba

    YUes it is important to point work as a source of growing, meeting others and become part of common efforts. ¡How about unemployed senior citizens, scarcely do we have an open door for work or contributing to society in ways that makes us better participants and are included. If only we were allowed to voice our say fom what we have learned and lived and still aspire for future genertaions! To meditate from our past as we have lived, erred and loved is a brave endeavour. Thank you.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Yes Enrique, This kind of employment, sacred work born from the creative core of the universe, is as much for us unemployed senior citizens as it is for the younger adults still engaged in the workforce. Our work is to reflect on the nature of wisdom and live according to what we’ve learned. Wisdom has informed the evolution of the universe throughout time, but it is our work to own it during our season as elders so that younger activities may happen within it.

      You might think of wisdom as a bed sheet When it is crumpled up on the floor, it is not much use to any one, but as soon as some people (elders). take the four corners and the sides, there is a resilient field in the center for the younger generations to explore.

      Wisdom is not the same as information. We know the answer to many of the problems younger people are facing and we are eager to share our solutions. But young people don’t want to hear our answers. They want to solve their own problems and have their own insights so that someday they can hold the flame of wisdom for those younger than them. That’s how humans are wired, So we need to go with this. They count on our appreciation for the struggles they are facing, and the joys they discover. They want to be in the presence of wisdom – and that’s us. Our work is how to be present, participate, and respond without giving answers. Its the wise thing to do. Otherwise, we would not continue to grow on life’s path, and growing is the essence of life.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  4. Carol Kilby

    Matt, your book, The Reinvention of Work, was pivotal in my own evolution. It helped me stop working as clergy to sustain the church and save souls and start working as an offspring of the sacred Earth for a sustainable future.
    This cease-work event triggered by Covid19 is such an opportunity for individuals and companies to check their hearts and start Work Like You/We Don’t Need the Money – the name of my D.Min. thesis at UCS 2004. Your treatment of different kinds of works as different sacraments was brought work, spirit/heart, and the economy into new perspective. The opportunity of these lock-down times is to reflect on Work Like the Poor are Hungry! Work Like the Earth Depends on it! Work Like the Heart Matters. SO much to meditate on that will drive us out of fear and into the streets.

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Carol,
      Beautiful words, thank you. Like you, I have deeply seated hope that this cease work event, combined with a cease-shopping event, a cease polluting event, a cease driving and flying event, and a cease the frenzy event will change so many aspects of our life together on this planet. This is a turning point. I think we need to be very intentional about what we bring back into our lives.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

  5. Avatar

    Thank you Matt for your beautiful message about work, that all our work passes through the heart and that it is the Holy Spirit that moves the heart by the force of Love. Simple but profound words that sum up an entire chapter of the Bhagavad Gita on Karma yoga.

    I pray that the Holy Spirit moves through me unhindered by my thoughts, and make me do my daily round, down to the most seemingly insignificant tasks from a place of love, ease, joy and awareness. ??

    1. Gail Sofia Ransom

      Dear Billy.
      we are so pleased to read your comment about today’s meditation. I hope that the meditation will continue to accompany you throughout your days and weeks.
      Gail Sofia Ransom
      For the Daily Meditation Team

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