Joan Chittister has a long tradition of drawing wisdom from monastic spirituality for living life today. I don't agree with everything she says, but her reflections on work are right on the money and worthy of reproducing here.
The implications of a spirituality of work in a world such as ours are clear, it seems: Work is my gift to the world. It is my social fruitfulness. It ties me to my neighbor and binds me to the future.
Work is the way I am saved from total self-centeredness. It gives me a reason to exist that is larger than myself. It makes me part of possibility. It gives me hope. Martin Luther wrote, “If I knew that the world would end tomorrow, I would plant an apple tree today.”
Work gives me a place in salvation. It helps redeem the world from sin. It enables creation to go on creating. It brings us all one step closer to what the kingdom is meant to be.
Work is meant to build community. When we work for others, we give ourselves and we can give alms as well. We never work, in other words, for our own good alone.
Work leads to self-fulfillment. It uses the gifts and talents we know we have and it calls on gifts of which we are unaware.
Work is its own asceticism. When we face the work at hand, with all its difficulties and all its rigors and all its repetition and all its irritations and accept it, we do not need to traffic in symbolic penances. What today’s work brings is what is really due from me to God. And if we do it well, we will have spiritual discipline aplenty. What’s more, when this is not the job we want but we cannot get any other, when this is not the wage we need to make ends meet but they will not pay more, when we see younger workers and more automated machines and job slowdowns begin to encroach on the work we once thought would be our lifetime security, then virtues of faith and simplicity of life and humility come into play in ways too real to be reduced to empty rituals or religious gestures. Then work becomes the raw material of wisdom and holy abandonment.
Finally, work is the way we really live in solidarity with the poor of the world. Work is our commitment not to live off others, not to sponge, not to shirk, not to cheat. Giving less than a day’s work for a day’s pay, shunting work off onto underlings, assuming that personal days are automatically just additional vacation days, taking thirty-minute coffee breaks in the fifteen-minute schedule, doing one coat of paint where we promised to do two, are not what was meant by “till the Garden and keep it.”
Work is our gift to the future. It is our sign that God goes on working the world through us. It is the very stuff of divine ambition. And it will never be over. The philosopher wrote, “Do you want a test to know if your work in life is over? If you are still alive, it isn’t.” As the rabbi and the disciple both knew well, God needs us to complete God’s work. Now.
—from In the Heart of the Temple, by Joan Chittister (BlueBridge 2004)