Joan Chittister: Bless the Work of Our Hands

photo by Ben Curtis
photo by Ben Curtis

“A spirituality of work is based on a heightened sense of sacramentality, of the idea that everything that is, is holy and that our hands consecrate it to the service of God. When we grow radishes in a small container in a city apartment, we participate in creation. We sustain the globe. When we repair what has been broken or paint what is old or give away what we have earned that is above and beyond our own sustenance, we stoop and scoop up the earth and breath into it new life. When we wrap garbage and recycle cans, when we clean a room, when we care for everything we touch and touch it reverently, we become the creators of a new universe. Then we sanctify our work and our work sanctifies us.

A spirituality of work draws us out of ourselves and, at the same time, makes us more of what we are meant to be. My work develops myself. I become what I practice all my life. “Excellence,” Samuel Johnson wrote, “can only be attained by the labor of a lifetime; it is not to be purchased at a lesser price.”

My work also develops everything around it. There is nothing I do that does not affect the world in which I live. In developing a spirituality of work, I learn to trust beyond reason that good work will gain good things for the world, even when I don’t expect them and I can’t see them. In that way, I gain myself. Literally. I come into possession of a me that is worthwhile, whose life has not been in vain, who has been a valuable member of the human race.

Finally, a spirituality of work immerses me in the search for human community. I begin to see that everything I do, everything, has some effect on someone somewhere. I begin to see my life tied up in theirs. I begin to see that the starving starve because someone is not working hard enough to feed them. And so I do. It becomes obvious, then, that the poor are poor because someone is not intent on the just distribution of the goods of the earth. And so I am. I begin to realize that work is the lifelong process of personal sanctification that is satisfied only by saving the globe for others and saving others for the globe. I finally come to know that my work is God’s work, unfinished by God because God meant it to be finished by me.”–Joan Chittister, OSB

Excerpt from For Everything a Season by Joan Chittister (Orbis)

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