Eckhart on Work, Compassion, and Justice

It is telling that Eckhart, so often when he talks about compassion and justice, talks about it in the context of our work.  Whether that work be raising one’s kids, or earning a living, or being an active citizen, it is always either about justice-making and compassion…or it is not. It is in our work especially, whatever arenas it plays out in, that the struggle for justice plays out. 

Farmworkers picking cucumbers. Photo from Flickr by Bread for the World.

This raises the pertinent question: How is my work an act of justice and compassion?  How is it standing up to injustices whether they be eco, social, racial, economic or gender injustices?  These questions are all part of our spiritual journeys.

Eckhart is instructing us that our work is a work of love, for “whoever is born of God as a son of God loves God for his sake, that is to say, he loves God for the sake of loving God and does all his work for the sake of working.” Thus it is that “where justice is at work, you are at work.”

Eckhart defines justice as “a certain rightness whereby every person receives his or her due.” We do the work of justice when we bring about this “certain rightness” among persons. Indeed, this is what makes us alive.  Living fully and working for justice go together.  Like life itself, justice is its own reward. “The just person lives and works without reason of gain. As much as life has the reason for living in itself, in that same way the just person knows no other reason for being just.” Justice is the reason for justice. Just work is the reason for work.

Long time peace activist, theologian, and priest, Fr. John Dear, sharing his 3 point to practicing nonviolence for a more just world. Video originally posted to YouTube by Elfenworks Production.

Outside motivation is not worthy of the work we do. It separates us from our work and alienates us from our inner self. That way lies spiritual and personal death and our work too becomes dead work. 

One reason why outside-oriented works alienate us is that they are born of compulsion and not compassion or creativity, the way the creative Word gives birth. All works are surely dead if anything from the outside compels you to workEven if God did the compelling, they would be dead. Psychologist William Eckhardt makes a similar observation when he insists that compulsion is the Number One psychological obstacle to compassion and works of compassion.

Classic Union Anthem, Which Side Are You On? sung by Folk Singer, Pete Seeger. Provided to YouTube by Smithsonian Folkways Recordings

Eckhart urges us to avoid all compulsion in our work–“become accustomed to work without compulsion,” he insists. How do we do this? By working from within, and not from outside. Many people are “being worked rather than working,” he observes.

Instead of compulsion, make contact with one’s inner person. When we are truly grounded, we co-create with God. In our work that is in God and therefore in Compassion and in Justice “we become entirely Love”–that is the goal of our being and of our work.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Passion For Creation: The Earth-Honoring Spirituality of Meister Eckhart, pp. 472-475.

See also: Matthew Fox, The Reinvention of Work.

Banner Image: Labor rights demonstration in 2010. Photo originally posted to Flickr by Raffi Asdourian.

Queries for Contemplation

Meditate on your various expressions of work you do during the day.  How does compassion and justice penetrate that work? 

How does your innermost self find expression in your 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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1 thought on “Eckhart on Work, Compassion, and Justice”

  1. Avatar

    In our time and in the industrial economy we live in, the idea of work without compulsion
    is a clerical fantasy. Clerics can only be addressing other clerics or independent artists.

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