Category Archives: work

Where modesty was never meant to be.

Chesterton in Brighton, 1935

“Modesty has moved from the organ of ambition. Modesty has settled upon the organ of conviction where it was never meant to be. A man was meant to be doubtful about himself, but undoubting about the truth: this has been exactly reversed. Nowadays the part of a man that a man does assert is exactly the part he ought not to assert — himself. The part he doubts is exactly the part he ought not to doubt — the Divine Reason…

“The old humility was a spur that prevented a man from stopping: not a nail in his boot that prevented him from going on. For the old humility made a man doubtful about his efforts, which might make him work harder. But the new humility makes a man doubtful about his aims, which will make him stop working altogether.”

― G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

We may as well go patiently on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ON LOOKING UP BY CHANCE AT THE CONSTELLATIONS

You’ll wait a long, long time for anything much
To happen in heaven beyond the floats of cloud
And the Northern Lights that run like tingling nerves.
The sun and moon get crossed, but they never touch,
Nor strike out fire from each other, nor crash out loud.
The planets seem to interfere in their curves,
But nothing ever happens, no harm is done.
We may as well go patiently on with our life,
And look elsewhere than to stars and moon and sun
For the shocks and changes we need to keep us sane.
It is true the longest drouth will end in rain,
The longest peace in China will end in strife.
Still it wouldn’t reward the watcher to stay awake
In hopes of seeing the calm of heaven break
On his particular time and personal sight.
That calm seems certainly safe to last tonight.

Robert Frost, West-Running Brook, 1928

I read Frost’s poem on this blog: First Known When Lost, where it was posted this week along with a couple of others that may be seen as following a theme. Stephen Pentz leads off his article with the reminder that  “… the feeling that the world is going to Hell in a hand-basket is a timeless feature of human nature.”

Then he leads the reader to make a distinction between the world and the World. I have been thinking lately about Mary Oliver’s poem “Messenger,” which is about this, and I’d say “Landscape” as well.

The details of our given “work assignments” are unique to each of us; we need to look to God for light and strength to do the essential spiritual work, which will help us to be ready for any more public tasks that come our way. Pentz’s last line sums it up pretty well:

“Life is ever a matter of attention and gratitude, don’t you think?”

A bean. A life.

It’s been a long time since my first posting of the poem below. I thought of it this morning when I was sorting my Painted Lady beans. October is the month to clean up all the leftovers of summer plants and visitors. It probably won’t surprise you to know that little boys left dishes in the playhouse sink!

Last week four helpers came for a long session of work, and the youngest of them washed up those dishes; now I can put them where the winter wind won’t drop leaves and dust and rain on them, when it blows through the paneless windows.

They also finished up tasks relating to those runner beans, removing the last of the vines from the trellis, and shelling the beans into a big bowl.

Then it was my turn, to take out the biggest pieces of stem and pod so that the beans could simply be washed when I’m ready to cook them. But no sifter or screen that I could find had the right size holes.

When I was dusting this morning I hit upon the idea of using a microfiber cloth to spread the beans on, thinking it might reach out and grab all of that litter. It worked beautifully. I spread a layer of dirty beans on the cloth, and then moved the beans off, leaving all the detritus behind. The shriveled or undeveloped beans were left with the inedibles.

 

A WOMAN CLEANING LENTILS

A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a lentil, a stone.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black. A stone.
A lentil, a lentil, a stone, a lentil, a lentil, a word.
Suddenly a word. A lentil.
A lentil, a word, a word next to another word. A sentence.
A word, a word, a word, a nonsense speech.
Then an old song.
Then an old dream.
A life, another life, a hard life. A lentil. A life.
An easy life. A hard life, Why easy? Why hard?
Lives next to each other. A life. A word. A lentil.
A green one, a black one, a green one, a black one, pain.
A green song, a green lentil, a black one, a stone.
A lentil, a stone, a stone, a lentil.

— Zahrad

There is a book we’ve had for years in our parish bookstore, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. I might even have it in my house by now, but I haven’t read much of it. One might think its message is similar to “The Power of Positive Thinking,” but it’s not. It’s more like what the Apostle Paul said:

“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

That book is a collection of teachings from Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, such as:

“Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.”

“We need repentance. You see, repentance is not only going to a priest and confessing. We must free ourselves from the obsession of thoughts.”

“Freedom belongs to God. When a person is free from the tyranny of thoughts, that is freedom. When he lives in peace, that is freedom. He is always in prayer, he is always expecting help from the Lord—he listens to his conscience and does his best. We must pray with our whole being, work with our whole being, do everything with our whole being. We must also not be at war with anyone and never take any offense to heart.”

Quietly thinking, letting words come to one’s mind, sorting them out — it sounds like a wholesome and meditative activity. But how many pieces worthy only of the garbage might we find in the bowl of a lifetime — or merely a certain calendar year — stones and shriveled things, and who knows what words and whole tirades and laments that might pop into one’s mind?

When they do, it’s better to grab them, to be like a microfiber cloth. Keep only the beautiful, smooth and thankful legumes on which your soul can feast and grow strong. Every lentil can be like a knot on a prayer rope, bringing the sorter closer to her Lord, Who is her Life.

To feel astonished is to be disturbed.

I only got a face mask last week, and this week I tied a piece of drapery cord to the ear loops, so that I can leave it hanging around my neck when I am not exactly “in public.” Otherwise, I might be fined $1,000 if I am discovered without it covering my face.

On this morning’s walk I never needed it, as I went earlier and on the southern creekside route that is less traveled. In some places honeysuckle escaped from a back yard and has climbed all over the trees along the bank:

I began to think again, as I have done so often throughout my life, about the verse,

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.

Every time I muse it is from a new perspective, of course. Today I considered how king and happy are words with many levels and shades of meaning, and in our minds they live in a context that is rich with metaphor and our individual experience.

A child might think he’d like to be a king, and tell people what to do, and order his servants to bring him cookies or pizza whenever he wants. But we older and wiser ones think, How happy can a king be, anyway? What a job, being a king!! Too much work, right? I’m sure some kings (rulers) get into the business because they want to profit from it, but true happiness could never result from that motivation.

“The ‘whole good’ cannot be had, it would seem, without mustering all the strength of our inner life. Even in the sphere of external possessions there are goods which inherently demand, if they are to be truly ours, far more of us than mere acquisition. ‘My garden,’ the rich man said; his gardener smiled.” – Josef Pieper

A king who has nothing but leisure will not long be king. And the thought of leisure made me think on something else that I have returned to again and again, the title of Josef Pieper’s book: Leisure, the Basis of Culture. He presented it as five lectures in 1947. I have never read the book, I say to my shame. Until now, the title alone was evocative enough. I did get another book by Pieper which I have not finished reading, and right now I can’t find it on my shelves, either. But thanks to Goodreads I have been nourished this morning by excerpts from various of his books. (All the quotes in brown here are from him.) And I found a helpful review (I have read many such reviews) in case you’re interested, by James W. Schall: “On Pieper’s Leisure and Living Well.” This short explanation of Pieper’s idea of leisure is good, too: “It is not laziness, but rather an inner silence that enables one to see reality.”

But long before I got home, I continued to think about that book I haven’t read, as I walked up and down the path pictured at top. I didn’t want to continue up to the street and on my usual loop, because I knew there were many people walking on the pavement above; my own newly mown swath by the creek I didn’t have to share with another soul. It was my own little kingdom for a while. So I turned around and came back, and I did that three times altogether, which added up to about two miles.

I’m afraid I had gone back to thinking about work instead of leisure, giving a nod as I passed by, to the idea of culture. What about all the work I need to be doing in my kingdom of my house? We have completed the fast with its spiritual labors, its fitness training for the soul, and are reminded that we can live, especially during this Bright Week, “Renewal Week,” in the glorious light of the Resurrection. I know our priest said something last night or this morning, about what our focus should be, but I forgot already. The sun was shining this morning as is so appropriate on the mornings of Bright Week, so I took another screen shot of the church during the streamed Morning Prayers.

In spite of its being Bright Week, I was thinking about how as a king I could really use a few servants, in order to get my work done — even one servant! I’m sure the construction workers are all wishing they could get over here, too, and finish a few tasks that will liberate me to be a good steward over that part of my realm, and create culture, if you will.

But the kingdom of my soul…. it has servants enough, doesn’t it? My body, with its legs and arms, and mouth and brain. Even when we can’t do our usual kinds of work, we can bear the responsibility for our souls, by “strong activity” that Pieper describes:

“…Enduring comprises a strong activity of the soul, namely, a vigorous grasping of and clinging to the good; and only from this stout-hearted activity can the strength to support the physical and spiritual suffering of injury and death be nourished.”

Enduring, grasping, clinging… those sound sound like the realities of my days.

And he warns us: “Separated from the sphere of divine worship, of the cult of the divine, and from the power it radiates, leisure is as impossible as the celebration of a feast. Cut off from the worship of the divine, leisure becomes laziness and work inhuman.”

Those of us who know how to be thankful have the power to enjoy leisure and to escape boredom: “The vacancy left by absence of worship is filled by mere killing of time and by boredom, which is directly related to inability to enjoy leisure; for one can only be bored if the spiritual power to be leisurely has been lost. There is an entry in Baudelaire’s Journal Intime that is fearful in the precision of its cynicism: ‘One must work, if not from taste then at least from despair. For, to reduce everything to a single truth: work is less boring than pleasure.’”

Oh, poor Beaudelaire! By the gifts of God throughout my life I have eyes (hmm – more servants!) to see the beauty and glory around me and to know to Whom to give thanks. So I was ready when I saw one of these by the creek! It’s a Mourning Cloak. This is not my picture, but mine were good enough for my Seek app to help me identify it:

“Happiness… even the smallest happiness, is like a step out of Time,
and the greatest happiness is sharing in Eternity.”

The plague of coronavirus that seems to cover the earth is not the only plague that afflicts us, or the most ruinous one. That many humans are unable to obtain true leisure or to enjoy it, is a terrible disease. It seems worse to me than the true laziness I surely fall into.

I know that most people I talk to are feeling at loose ends at least occasionally these days, when it might be expected that we would be able to use all this extra time to accomplish more than we do. Are we lazy, or working? Something is going on in our souls, and I think that for me it may be partly attributed to this idea that Pieper sets forth:

“Wonder does not make one industrious, for to feel astonished is to be disturbed.”

I only pray that I will be disturbed in the right direction, toward Him Who fills all in all.

Christ is risen! Truly He is risen!