Reflecting on Our Labor

It was apparent by the look on her face that she was bewildered by the scenario that was playing out in front of her. Preparing myself for what I thought might come next, I waited patiently for her to move to some sense of comprehension.

“Wait, aren’t you the Bishop?”

“Why, yes, I am a bishop,” I responded, all the while continuing to stay focused on the task that had precipitated her confusion.

“Wow, so then why are you washing the dishes?”

“Good for my soul. Have you ever heard of Brother Lawerence?” I asked. The flow of others bringing their dishes to the dish pit naturally moved her along, but it was clear she was still perplexed by the situation.

I like washing dishes.

I like mowing the lawn.

I love chopping wood.

In fact, I appreciate most manual labor, where I get to see the ‘field I plowed.’ It is in my DNA. I grew up in a farming community where there were always chores to be done or a part time job for the asking. In my family, I was expected to do my share. The ‘real money’ often came from doing the same work, but for pay. Either way, there was always the immediate gratification of working hard and accomplishing something tangible.

Nicolas Herman, born in poverty in Lorraine, was a soldier in the Thirty Year War (1618-1648). The war left him wounded both physically and psychologically. After a brief stint of work as a valet and a footman, Nicolas joined the Order of Discalced Carmelites for a life of solitude and prayer. Taking the name of Bother Lawerence, his primary work was to wash dishes. I became familiar with Bother Lawerence a number of years ago through the wonderful book, The Practice of the Presence of God: Bother Lawerence. This collection of letters and records of conversations from Brother Lawerence includes his most famous quote,

“we ought not to be weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed.”

I have been reflecting a lot on Bother Lawerence recently, as summer often provides me with a greater opportunity to get my hands dirty. I have also spent a fair bit of time with one of my bothers this year, who is deeply involved with a labor dispute between his Union and the organization he works for. Labor Day has always evoked my prayers for the work that I am blessed to do, and for those who feel anything but blessed with their work.

My prayer for all of us this upcoming Labor Day weekend is that we can all find meaningful work and experience the presence of God in that work.

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