And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.
Tradition holds that the creation account ends with God’s pinnacle of creation emerging from the marrying stuff of the earth with divine breath, somehow mysteriously crafting human beings in the image of God. Tradition, further, maintains that on the seventh day God rested from the work of creating. Derived from the Hebrew word shabbat, meaning “to cease,” this resting or cessation of outward work, became the “Sabbath.”
However, another tradition contends that God’s creating did not end with the creation of humanity, but, rather, that humanity is God’s penultimate creation. This second tradition contends that creation continued with God’s ultimate work, i.e., God’s creating Sabbath or restful fellowship. This last act of creation is not the lack of creation but the creation of a particular space and time, a space and time for refreshment and reveling with God and with all of creation.
If this latter interpretation is the case, then it alters how we understand work and its place in our lives. In other words, if creation’s pinnacle is refreshment and revelry, then a radical shift in our understanding of the importance of refreshment and revelry is needed. Refreshment and revelry move to the fore as essential components of right relationship with our created purpose and our appropriately balanced work in the world. This notion of a rebalanced work suggests that work, to be proper work, must be paired with inner refreshment and joyous revelry. This reworking of work begins to distance work away from purely productive interpretations toward equally creative, introspective, and expository definitions.
Such a re-conceptualization of work might be revolutionary in a culture that manages to commoditize everything, valuing those activities the most that are productive and profitable, representing “time well spent.” In overvaluing outward, productive actions, our culture devalues those activities that are more fanciful and introspective, calling them a “waste of time.” (Here, even our words meant to describe the passage of time have been commoditize and valuated.)
If the latter interpretation holds, then rest becomes an indispensable activity because in resting we are placed in alignment with our true intended being, helping each of us uncover our unique function in the world. Such restfulness allows us to listen to others and ourselves, to pause from the busyness of life to look at our life, our loves, and our work. The work of restful refreshment and revelry becomes essential because it connects us to God’s rhythmical habits of work and rest, merging inner purpose with outer production.
This merging of inner purpose with outer production has the potential, as Matthew Fox interprets it in his The Reinvention of Work, to make all of our life’s work sacramental. A sacrament is a visible expression of an inward reality or, in Fox’s words, a sacrament is “a symbol that accomplishes what it signifies.” This means that sacraments are those activities of our lives that manage to bring to visible, material fruition the invisible, spiritual truth of each of us, potentially exposing each person’s unique and collective purpose, each person’s unique and collective work. Thus, all of life and our life’s work (whether you are a brick mason or a minister or a teacher or a technician or whether your life’s work in not found in your job but in your other, voluntary workings) has the potential to be sacramental. Our life and life’s work might be sacramental if our outward work emerges from our restful discovery of our general calling to be refreshed by God and to revel in our particular place in communion with each other and the rest of creation. Such a redefinition of work not only moves to the fore the potency and propriety of rest as an essential component of work, but it also banishes those ever looming dualisms that seek to divide the spiritual form the material, the practical from the prophetic, the inner from the outer, and the holy from the ordinary. Such a dualistic construction of the world runs counterintuitive, it seems, to the vision cast in the creation stories, the narrative of salvation, and the eschatological musings of creation’s true end. In each of those iterations, dualisms are expelled, allowing the sacred and mundane to dwell together with transformative consequences.
Augustine of Hippo, one of the early leaders and continued authorities of the church, called Sunday the Eight Day of Creation because it was the day that creation was renewed in the resurrection, a renewal that reunited Creator with creation and creation with itself. Such a renewal is embodied in the ritual of the liturgy that is practiced on those Sundays. The liturgy is those collections of activities that we repeat as a means to reenact this salvific narrative. It is also, not accidentally, a merger of two Greek words, laos and ergos, meaning the “work of the people.” The liturgical work of refreshment and revelry is positioned at the start of the week and enacted repetitively to help train us and prepare us for our larger work in the world, a work meant to emerge from our inner lives and merge with our outer activities, permeating all that we do and coating our every activity with a thick layer of divine grace.
It is no accident that the Ten Commandments link Sabbath habits with habits of living in the world and that the Greatest Commandment to love God is automatically paired with an equally important fiat to love neighbors, too. There is a natural connection between our inner and outer work, a connection that requires careful listening and attuned introspection to find proper, meaningful expression in our public actions and discourse. It is, also, no accident that the liturgy ends with our being sent back out into the world because we cannot remain cloistered if we are to remain faithful to our created intention. We are meant to live and work for each other in the world. For such a living to have potency it must find expression in a life that is shared.
This week we look at work differently from the perspective of faith. May our different ways of work be an expression of our inner most selves and understood not just as that which we do to make ends meet but that which we do to make the divine meet the mundane, graciously connecting you to me and God to everything.