Come Labor On, by David Simmons

Labor day. It’s a day that we generally think of as the last gasp of summer – the last chance to get out and do something before school season rolls in on those of us who have kids of that age. As a society, we take a day off to value the contributions of workers.

Manual labor has a special place in Benedictine monasticism. Section 48 of the Rule states,

“Idleness is the enemy of the soul; and therefore the brethren ought to be employed in manual labor at certain times, at others, in devout reading. Hence, we believe that the time for each will be properly ordered..”

Benedict certainly approved of rest, but he recognized that too much idleness left more room for “Murmuring,” – Idle negative talk – which he considered to be one of the greatest threats to Christian community. He felt that a balance of prayer, study, rest and manual labor was the proper life for a Christian.

In Benedictine spirituality, manual labor isn’t just about avoiding idleness. It has its own benefits. It involves the hands and the autonomic parts of our minds so that we can pray more clearly. It’s not uncommon to find people talking about how their most fruitful times of prayer are doing laundry, or washing dishes, or knitting. Having something to do with the “busy” parts of our minds gives the more meditative parts of our psyche room to work.

We are considering how to re-imagine ourselves as church. How do make real these dreams we have of our Christian community? Today we should consider what the role of the work of our hands might be. As Episcopalians, we tend to be “idea” and “program” people, but how would we order ourselves to bring our common labor into this balance?

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ in his earthly life shared our toil and hallowed our labor: Be present with your people where they work; make those who carry on the industries and commerce of this land responsive to your will; and give to us all a pride in what we do, and a just return for our labor;
through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.