Well Done | September 4, 2022 by Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton
In a far-off world, God sent two Spirits to work.
The work God sent them to do was to tunnel through a mountain.
And they stood side by side and looked at it. And they began to work.
They found that the place they had to work in was too narrow;
their wings got interlocked. They saw they would never get through the mountain if they worked at it only from that one place.
And one spirit said to the other, "You better stay here; I will go
and work from the other side."
And it flew away. And they worked on, each from his side of the mountain. And after years in the dark, each one heard the sound of the other's axe, picking, and they were getting near - that the other was at work.
But before they got to the center, these spirits' sleep-time came;
and God sent other spirits to take their work and place.
But they had heard each other's axes picking, in the dark;
that was enough for them.
The opening story is from Olive Schreiner and is entitled, "Workers". Like so many of her stories, it is a metaphor for life…a way to reconcile the uncertainty and apparent lack of meaning in life. Echoed in the song by the Consolers, this story can give us hope…that if we work hard…sometimes having to change directions or the setting of our work, our creator will be “well pleased” and will, at the end of our days, say, “Well Done!” It can be a wonderful feeling working on a project with the help of our companions and perhaps the whole community…a time of the strengthening of purpose…of hearing the sound of others working near us, spurring us on to continue working. And looking back, we may be able to say that it was all worth it…it was a meaningful endeavor that bore fruit…we were able to make that tunnel in the mountain where others could benefit from our work.
Of course we know that for many people in the world, this is not how it works. Large corporations focused on profits exploit workers. People do not earn a living wage…one that sustains them. And at the same time, profits are used to further the agendas of those in power. There was a recent example of this in the news. A member of Opus Dei, the Catholic organization that has been connected with the previous pope…and with the ultra-conservative movement in this country, Leonard Leo, was reported to have arranged a deal in which he “earned” 1.6 billion dollars. It is this amount that he will continue to use for his own purposes…the continuation of the purposes of those in power…in corporate America, in our law schools and courts and in our political processes. Unsurprisingly, Leo was instrumental in facilitating the installation of our conservative Supreme Court Justices that are busy working toward a system and indeed a world where only the rich and powerful have a stake…a world where peace and justice are not our goals, but only private power for the few. Matthew Fox discusses this reality in his Daily Meditations. He wrote:
It is especially telling that this news comes out the same week that President Biden dared to speak the “F” word in a public discourse, that word being of course “Fascism.” (His exact terminology being “semi-fascism” of the MAGA crowd.) Maybe we should just call it “American Fascism,” which as Sinclair Lewis warned us 100 years ago would “come to America wrapped in a flag and carrying a cross.”
Lewis called it. At a time when it was profoundly unpopular to criticize our country, he stood strong behind his convictions and beliefs. He understood the dangers of capitalism and the direction unbridled capitalism will take. He knew of the vast history of this reality…of the power of unquestioned patriotism and fundamentalist religion, including the system of slavery in this country and around the world.
Another person who wrote of this reality was Frantz Fanon, author of Wretched of the Earth. He pointed out that this is our work…to counteract this reality…to transform our entire system. He wrote:
What matters today, the issue which blocks the horizon, is the need for a redistribution of wealth. Humanity will have to address this question, no matter how devastating the consequences may be.
That was written in 1961 at the end of his life. He had learned that it was important to see this horizon…the future, and without a full overhaul of our system, he rightfully foresaw that there would be devastating circumstances.
I think we are now seeing the devastating circumstances. We are seeing a dissatisfaction with our work, often because we are forced to put in long, hard hours, days, weeks, months...even years seemingly by ourselves and to no avail. We do not see the fruits of our labors for they are being reaped by others. This can breed a type of resentment…like the one between Mary and Martha in the Bible:
Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her’. Luke 10:26-38
We can see this story as a literal encounter, and it could be seen as justified. Martha is certainly justified in her resentment toward her sister who is not helping her. But instead of this literal interpretation, we can, as Meister Eckhart did, see it as a guide to our behavior. Eckhart says that we must be able to do the work at the same time as we are paying attention to our spiritual lives…we must be able to use both action and contemplation in life. We know that if we do not do this, we suffer from bitterness and resentments that can rule our entire lives.
Last weekend I got a beautiful reminder of this lesson at the concert, The Majesty of the Spiritual, featuring many wonderful artists, including our own Dr. Carl Blake. The message that was proclaimed by these powerful musicians was that we do need to work but that we must keep our minds and bodies on our own spiritual health…we must keep our hands on the plow…we must hold on but at the same time, we must not let anyone turn us around…we must stay attuned to the sweetest sound we ever heard in order to experience that great day where we can put on our crown as royal persons…as God’s children. I was reminded that I can ask the all-pervading presence of the Universe to guide my feet. I can have a Lit’l Talk With Jesus to Make It Right.
What a wonderful revelation this can be. We can realize that we are in this together…and when we work in community with one another, we find a power that we had not known was possible. We find we are not alone in the struggle. We have companions along the way…including the spiritual companionship of the Great Spirit of Life.
I’d like to close with the words of Paulo Freire. He wrote:
The world is not finished.
It is always in the process of becoming…
my role in the world,
is not restricted to a process of only observing what happens
but it also involves my intervention
as a subject of what happen in the world.
My prayer for us is that we may each listen carefully for the sound of the authentic within and that unrelenting sound of our companion's axe, telling us that we are not alone. The world is indeed not finished, and it depends on our ability to clear the horizon so that we are able to cultivate and work for a new vision…it truly does depend on our intervention and our commitment to becoming…our commitment to keeping before the moments of our high resolve.