Week of 3/11-16/2024: Our Work as an Act of Holiness

March 11, 2024: Why Human Work Counters Despair & Is a Path to Holiness
We have been reflecting on the words of retired lawyer Kenneth Matheny who, though very critical of his profession and SCOTUS at this time, assures us that “all is not lost.” Matthew says: I think the key lies with humans who are willing to work from their hearts and their values, and to stay and fight. He cites the shining examples of Alexei Navalny, MLK, Jr., Sister Dorothy Stang, and Jesus. Good work, well performed, is holy. Hildegard of Bingen tells us that angels themselves honor humanity’s work. Humans are “the full work of God,” and in “praise and in deeds all of God’s works are brought to completion through humans.”  

Work Well Done: Two megaliths newly raised alongside a Trilithon, at a new sacred site in Flintstone, Maryland, September 2021. Photo by LettieLepidoptera. Wikimedia Commons.

March 12, 2024: Harriet Tubman, A Holy Worker Par Excellence
In recent DMs, we have been exploring black heroes and sheroes, and Harriet Tubman is surely one of them. Called the “Moses of her people,” she escaped from slavery and then committed her life to assisting others to escape. Called a “conductor” of the Underground Railroad, she made about nine precarious trips south to free others–around 70 people in all, historians tells us. She served as a scout, spy, guerilla soldier and nurse for the Union Army during the Civil War and is recognized as the first African American woman to serve in the military. One time she helped guide Union soldiers along mine-filled waters. When they came ashore, they rescued 700 enslaved people from nearby plantations. All through her life she helped others. Even with very modest financial resources, she opened a Home for the Aged for impoverished Black people near Auburn, New York.

Mural, Harriet Tubman Museum and Educational Center, Cambridge, MD. Photo by Kirt Morris on Unsplash

March 13, 2024: Hildegard on Our Work as Cosmic and Sacramental Work
Recently, a businesswoman in Oakland who runs a car repair shop told Matthew that she gives out his book The Reinvention of Work to all her employees when she hires them, as it lays out the principles she values in her workplace. She said this book “is even more needed today than 30 years ago when you wrote it.” Hildegard of Bingen talks about all of nature being a temple and an altar for the service of God. Says Matthew: Our work is the sacrifice, the thing-made-sacred that is an offering of praise and thanks we put on the altar. It is our thanks for being here, the gift we leave behind when we die.

March 14, 2024: Ecstasy, Inebriation, the Universe and Our Work
The psalmist, when he says, “They shall be drunk with the beauty of the house,” invites us to ecstasy and inebriation at the beauty of God’s house. Aquinas explains the origin of our spiritual intoxication with one word—the universe. Yes, the universe exists to get us drunk. To make us joyful beyond measure. Rabbi Heschel declares that the universe does not just exist, but “shocks us into amazement.” Says Matthew: Our work is only possible because the universe has birthed us and empowers us and calls us to our work. Our inner work begins with awe—awe at the universe and its accomplishments. All good work that serves the greater good is sacred work.

Sacred work: a teacher with her students, Klaten, Kabupatén Klatén, Jawa Tengah, Indonesia. Photo by Husniati Salma on Unsplash

March 15, 2024: The Via Negativa in Work & Mystics Contextualizing Our Work
Humans work. All beings have their work to do, their contribution to make to the whole, to the cosmos. Work is a holy activity and need not be viewed as a curse, as one story in the Bible puts it. But, for many, work is just plain old hard. Studs Terkel said: To survive the day is triumph enough for the walking wounded among the great many of us. Economist E.F. Schumacher reminds us that we have insurance that pays when your body is harmed at work, but if your soul is injured, you are on your own. When our outer work is difficult, our inner work is essential. Meister Eckhart teaches that the outward work can never be small if the inward one is great, and the outward work can never be great or good if the inward is small or of little worth. 

March 16, 2024: Experiencing God in Nature, Including Our Work That Bears Fruit
The late California poet Bill Everson (also known as “Brother Antoninus” when he was a Dominican brother for sixteen years) used to say that “most people experience God in nature, or experience God not at all.” “In nature” can mean walking in the woods or swimming in the ocean, or climbing mountains or playing sports outdoors, or gardening, etc. Hildegard applauds how the “air revived the earth’s greening power and causes all fruits to put forth seeds and become fertile.” Is our human work cosmic and fruit-bearing and fertile?

Banner image: Woman cassava farming while simultaneously caring for her baby. Both jobs are very holy indeed. Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Recommended Reading

The Reinvention of Work: A New Vision of Livelihood For Our Time

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.”
“Fox approaches the level of poetry in describing the reciprocity that must be present between one’s inner and outer work…[A]n important road map to social change.” ~~ National Catholic Reporter

Hildegard of Bingen’s Book of Divine Works: With Letters and Songs

Today there are many websites and Hildegard groups that celebrate and honor Hildegard’s teachings, philosophy, art, and music. Author Matthew Fox writes in Hildegard of Bingen about this amazing woman and what we can learn from her. In an era when women were marginalized, Hildegard was an outspoken, controversial figure. Yet so visionary was her insight that she was sought out by kings, popes, abbots, and bishops for advice. A sixteenth century follower of Martin Luther called her “the first Protestant” because of her appeals to reform the church. As a writer, composer, philosopher, Christian mystic, Benedictine abbess, healer, artist, feminist, and student of science, Hildegard was a pioneer in many fields in her day.

A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice

In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register

Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest (Revised/Updated Edition)

Matthew Fox’s stirring autobiography, Confessions, reveals his personal, intellectual, and spiritual journey from altar boy, to Dominican priest, to his eventual break with the Vatican. Five new chapters in this revised and updated edition bring added perspective in light of the author’s continued journey, and his reflections on the current changes taking place in church, society and the environment.
“The unfolding story of this irrepressible spiritual revolutionary enlivens the mind and emboldens the heart — must reading for anyone interested in courage, creativity, and the future of religion.”
—Joanna Macy, author of World as Lover, World as Self

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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2 thoughts on “Week of 3/11-16/2024: Our Work as an Act of Holiness”

  1. Avatar

    I wanted to recommend an interesting website – sacredstories.com – that has information about an interesting contemporary Mystical Book Series called “Common Sentience”:
    “Have you had them… those mystical glimpses into the consciousness beyond our five senses?
    In a sacred moment, a flash of truth or taste of grace moves through us. Our world expands and something is revealed, illumined, felt. We go back to our daily lives, yet something essential has changed.
    Transcendent experiences like these are becoming so increasingly common that it makes sense to finally claim and honor the next level of consciousness we’re expanding into. Sharing grounded wisdom and our intimate encounters with this greater reality, our Common Sentience book series open hearts, affirms our innate essence, and transforms our world.”

  2. Avatar

    I love the Studs Terckel’s quote on work. And then the way it was balanced by all the other conceptions of work, which were not so “violent”. I feel you, Studs. One comes home from work, just bruised and battered and humiliated, frustrated. If you are lucky enough to have a home, and if you have the strength, you can engage in your daily Inner Work Practice. The Blessed One will put all your troubles into Perspective, sometimes I even come away from it laughing. It’s not always very pleasant at first, though. If one falls upon the couch with a bag of potato chips and neglects the daily Inner Work, tomorrow’s work will be even more strenuous and warlike. I think I’m really learning that as I navigate my 60’s.
    Really a lot to contemplate on this week, about work. I learned so much, as usual. Thank you all.

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