Worship Script (3 of 5)
Avoiding Overwork – Rest and Renewal
Quote by Martin Luther
I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.
HYMN #139 “Wonders Still the World Shall Witness”
From Confessions of Guilty Bystander by Thomas Merton
There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence, and that is overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of this innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone and everything, is to succumb to violence. The frenzy of our activism neutralizes our work for peace. It destroys our own inner capacity for peace because it kills the root of inner wisdom which makes work fruitful.
From “Renew Your Spirit” by Rev. Peter Morales
When we witness brutality, injustice, the stupidity of our politics, heartless human exploitation by the economically powerful, and the wanton devastation of nature—when we find ourselves becoming bitter, we need to remind ourselves of our most treasured experiences.
Actually, we need to do more than remember. We need to experience life’s gifts and possibilities once more. Renewing contact with what is most precious in life is really a spiritual practice. It is an essential practice. If we do not feed our spirits, they will wither. Even the good deeds we strive to do will become acts of anger and joyless obligation rather than efforts to share and to heal.
We all need to ask ourselves, “What does my spirit need right now?” Perhaps it is quiet time in nature. Maybe a visit to a new exhibition in a museum. How about some time in the garden? Why not attend a concert by a favorite artist, or take a walk with an old friend? The possibilities go on and on.
Even better, how about creating something rather than being passive? Play some music. Sing in a chorus. Paint or sculpt again. Knit or quilt or sew. Cook up something new and special. Play with a child. Now and then we all need to visit the world we are trying to create.
There is a part of me that feels guilty and self-indulgent when I do things that I enjoy and that feed my spirit. There are always articles or sermons to write, people to call, meetings to attend, emails to answer, projects to move forward. Yet deep down, I know better. Just as practices such as prayer and meditation give us clarity and strength to re-engage with the world, so too do other practices that get us in touch with what is most precious.
I urge you to make some space to reflect on what your spirit needs right now. Deep down you know; we all do. Our deepest longings will guide us. Make space for beauty and love and play. Let your spirit heal and soar.
When our spirits are strong and reconnected, our work for compassion and justice has enduring power. When our spirits are renewed, we are blessings to one another and to the world.
HYMN #99 “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen”
STORY FOR ALL AGES
From “Relax: the discipline” by Re. Amanda Aikman
The Sabbath comes to us from the Jewish tradition. In the story of creation in Genesis, each of God’s six acts of creation is like an act in a play. And the climax is: God rests. Why would God have thought it so important to rest? Rabbi Elijah of Vilna said that God stopped to show us that what we create becomes meaningful to us only when we stop creating it and start to think about why we did so.
We don’t stop to rest, however. We don’t stop to think about the meaning of what we have created. We don’t stop to consider ourselves and our place in the universe. Judith Shulevitz writes that “the Sabbath, the one day in seven dedicated to rest by divine command, has become the holiday Americans are most likely never to take.”
It is extraordinarily difficult to take a real Sabbath, to shut out the myriad voices that berate us for lazily sitting still when we could be earning money, improving ourselves or society, or—our real patriotic duty—shopping. It is difficult. But it can be done. We can set aside time and space, and keep it sacred. We can clear out the underbrush to make space under the tree, and sit there quietly. Then peace can gently come and roost, nurturing us, giving us joy and a sense of reconnection with the holy.\
That is why the Sabbath was created: to build that nest for peace. Observant Jews light candles on Friday evening to welcome the Sabbath. Observant Christians may start Sunday with prayer or quiet Bible study. But many nonreligious people, too, have learned how to usher Sabbath into their own lives.
Sharing a meal with loved ones—or preparing a beautiful meal for oneself—is one popular Sabbath activity. A woman who regularly invites friends over to cook with her tells Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath, “It becomes almost sacred, sacramental, the way food and hands and friendship all work together in the warmth of the kitchen.”
The Sabbath does not have to be restricted to one day a week, of course. There should be moments of Sabbath in every day—moments of hallowing the world. Kalu Rinpoche, a Tibetan spiritual leader, visited an aquarium and kept stopping to put his fingers to the glass of each tank, quietly blessing every fish as he walked: “May you be happy. May you be at peace.”
My partner and I spent last Thanksgiving at a lodge on the Olympic Peninsula and went for a long hike one morning. As we set out, we agreed to walk in silence for the first hour. I took a brief detour off the trail, and when I returned to it, Nancy was signaling to me urgently, smiling. There, just off the trail, was a doe, staring calmly at us. We stood silently for a long minute, the two humans and the wild creature, before the doe melted away into the underbrush. If we had been talking, she never would have lingered, and we would have missed that transcendent moment.
Observing the Sabbath, observing a day of mindfulness, taking a real day off, does not require anything extra of us. It does call for the intentional creation of sacred space and time. It takes a little discipline. It also calls us to overcome our fear of what we will find in the silence and the emptiness, our fear of what disaster will strike if the cat remains un-vacuumed.
The most challenging thing about Sabbath is that it is useless. Nothing will get done, not a single item will get checked off any list. Our work is necessary. But Sabbath time offers the priceless gift of balance. We are valued not for what we have done, but simply because we are. During Sabbath time, we reconnect with what is truly valuable: the beauty of the world, the love of God, the miracle of being itself. Sabbath is waiting quietly for us, a haven of calm, a nest of gentleness, a sweet apple on the tree of peace. Let us reach up toward it, and taste it for ourselves.
By Thich Nhat Hanh
If we are too busy, if we are carried away every day by our projects, our uncertainty, our craving, how can we have the time to stop and look deeply into the situation—our own situation, the situation of our beloved ones, the situation of our family and of our community, and the situation of our nation and of the other nations?
(Pause) Blessed be.
CANDLES OF JOY AND CONCERN
Those who are so moved are now invited to come forward to light a candle, expressing a joy or concern in their lives. As you do, you may briefly share what it is. We ask that people coming forward speak for no more than a sentence or two, and that they speak from the heart about issues in their lives, rather than political issues, which we can take up at coffee hour or in the parking lot.
Working, Not Working, and Now Working Any More
by Barbara Child
One fine day in San Francisco, nearly 35 years ago now, I found myself down on Mission Street, standing in line at the Unemployment office. Not too many years earlier, as an attorney for the Legal Services Corporation, I had regularly represented people in their disputes with the Unemployment office. And just days earlier, I had been the director of legal writing and research at Golden Gate University School of Law.
None of that changed what it felt like to stand in that line. And nobody in the whole place cared a hoot that I had just moved out of a very nice office on almost no notice when the Dean of the Law School decided to solve his financial problem by not having a director of writing and research any more.
When a workaholic is suddenly out of work, when somebody who has measured the value of life mainly by accomplishments suddenly has nothing to do, this is quite an experience. Now I think perhaps my six-month stint of unemployment was some of the best education I ever had. And so a decade later, when I was studying at Starr King School, our Unitarian Universalist seminary in Berkeley, exploring whether I might be called to the ministry, I decided to have a hard look at the meaning of work—what makes work good or not, and what not working means.
I have been revisiting those times here lately, as I think of those who are going through a variety of transitions in your working lives, some on purpose, some not at all on purpose, and as I find myself revisiting my own ambivalences about retirement.
When I lived in Berkeley, the streets were filled with homeless people with no work. I wanted to know what their lives were really like, so I spent one morning a week for about a year at the Berkeley Jobs Consortium. Each week I helped some homeless, jobless person compose a resume to get work. They shared with me the memoirs of their working lives.
There is, of course, work that’s so hard that almost anyone would welcome not working as a rest from it. There’s work that, as the song by Sweet Honey in the Rock says, brings you more than a pay check—work that brings you asbestosis, perhaps, or carpal tunnel or back injury, or the possibility that you may be shot in the line of duty.
There’s work that does greater injury to the spirit than to the body. I think of the people on the assembly line who become extensions of the machines they operate, who aren’t even allowed to stop their numbing motion long enough to go to the bathroom.
But I also think of how differently different people approach the same work. Studs Terkel’s classic book called Working is a collection of interviews of people in nearly every line of work you can think of. Side by side, we see the check-out clerk who hates the job and the one who loves it. We see the woman who waits tables in a restaurant with aching feet and heart hardened by too many encounters with nasty customers—and the waitress who thinks of herself gliding among the restaurant tables as if she were ballet dancing.
When I lived in Tampa, Florida, I learned the history of the cigar factories in the section of town called Ybor City. The people who sat in long rows rolling cigars saw their work as an art. Many could not read, but they listened all day to a highly revered “lector” (reader) who sat on a high platform and read to them not only the newspapers but also the literary classics. The lector was among the highest esteemed personages in the community, and the factory owners, who didn’t speak Spanish, wiped out the system when they caught on that the lectors were reading from Communist newspapers and organizing the workers.
You may know the story of the three stone masons. Someone asks them what they are doing. The first one scowls and says: “I am laboring to break up this unbreakable rock.” The second smiles and says: “I am earning a living for my family.” The third stands up and puffs out his chest. “I am building a great cathedral for the glory of God,” he says. So we had better beware of hastily condemning some work as demeaning and lifting up other work as honorable.
For good or for ill, many of us regard work as a kind of self-definition. Dorothy Solle says that joblessness is a form of excommunication—being prevented from the communication that matters. Made solitary when we are not made to be solitary. It isn’t true only of people who are fired or laid off. It may be true of people who retire as well.
My father worked for Goodyear Tire and Rubber for forty years before he retired. He knew nothing but his work and golf. He lived twenty more years, and golf became increasingly less fun for his aging body. He spent more and more time in front of the television set. I urged him to write his memoirs. Young business people could learn so much from his stories of corporate life. But he never did it. Sometimes I wish he had found himself in the Unemployment line in his mid-40s.
But I hasten to say that retirement need not be like his. Not working, for whatever reason, need not be like it was for him. I also have in my memory’s eye my partner Alan, in the years when he was no longer able to work but before Agent Orange and PTSD finally took their toll on him.
Alan had been a salesman after he returned from Vietnam. He could sell anything, and over the years just about did—pole barns, jewelry, advertising, shark jaws, pistols, pieces of eight. I believe he could have sold the Brooklyn Bridge if he had tried. I used to listen to him on the phone, taking care of business. Never hurried, never out of sorts, no matter how he was feeling, no matter what kind of day it had been.
That was his “working.” His “not working” was sitting on the dock, fishing, or not fishing. Or taking the canoe up the Santa Fe River before the sun went down. Maybe checking for the manatee at the mouth of the Ichetucknee River. Or having a ride in the old blue pick-up to Pope’s Store, checking on the neighborhood. “Come on,” he would say, “I want to show you something.” And up at the corner, we would sit in the darkness and watch millions of lightning bugs. There was very little talking. Alan, those last years at the river, was able to just be.
Ram Das says if you focus on doing instead of being, you burn out. It isn’t the nature of the work that burns you out. If you regard your work as an experiment in truth, you do not burn out. Ram Dass also says you can work on yourself anywhere. You can work on yourself as easily at the phone company as at the ashram.
When I finally got a job after my six months of unemployment, I wrote about tax law for a legal publishing company. For the first time in my working life, I didn’t take any work home. I started at 8:00 a.m. and left at 4:00, and I got to drive across the Golden Gate Bridge twice a day—in the opposite direction from all the traffic. If anybody ever tells you this life doesn’t put temptation in our paths, don’t you believe it. You understand—I abhor tax law, and I was making about five cents a month. But what did that matter?
It turned out to matter a great deal that the work didn’t give me any obstacles to overcome. It didn’t give me any resistance so that I could feel the strength of my being push against anything. It didn’t bring me forth.
I compared my working life with that of my friend David, living on his old boat in the Sausalito harbor. He really did make very little money in his landscaping business. He would say when he got into somebody’s yard, he felt like a musician getting ready to perform. He always wanted to get to know the people, to find out what colors and textures would reflect their style. David is still there. He eats brown rice and vegetables. He spends hours every day engaging people in conversation over coffee at the Café Trieste, and he walks along the docks and speaks to people as he goes. He is one of the happiest people I know.
The Book of Genesis would have us believe that work is our punishment for disobeying God, and that when we were banished from Eden we were doomed to labor. But some contemporary theologians say no, not so. Rather, the creation of the world is not finished, but continues day by day, and we are co-creators with God. Well, I don’t know about either theory. But I know that my father was cursed in his not working, and my friend David is blessed in both his working and his not working.
And I know that some of the most important work we do nobody pays us a penny for. All the volunteering. All the work of the church. I know that the hard work we do on ourselves does not burn us out—the work to know ourselves, to make our relationships healthy, the grief work, the work to free ourselves from phobia or addiction. “It may be,” as Wendell Berry says, “that when we no longer know what to do, we have come to our real work, and that when we no longer know which way to go, we have begun our real journey.”
It doesn’t matter whether we are working or not working, or not working any more. There is work for us all to do that is worthy, and we are all worthy of the work.
HYMN #114 “Forward Through the Ages”
By Annie Foerster
As far as our love flows;
as far as our hope grows;
as far as our yearning goes;
we are no farther one from another.