Shovel Work

Some tools should hold up even with
a lifetime’s tasks. My shovel might.
Its forged blade and all steel handle
worked with the ground and my father
and my brothers to burry my mother.
Planting flowers just now, its turning
of the earth recalled the place of her
rest so that my shovel held that place
with this and my mother to these flowers.

To wield willingly ever works wonders.
In Latinate language: labor dignifies.
Glory blooms with flowers from ground
where we once bent, shoveling soil for
seed and sprout. Why am I winding
words this way? In days when all daily
bread was toiling won, would any have
written such lines after planting only
a few flowers from a friend? But many
gardeners sang, and a few rhymed.
And would not most past planters have
moved earth with stout blade to burry
mother (and even every second child)?

Surely their spades, too, turned up
common ground, revealing a shared life
beneath each light of parent, child, bloom.

as though they felt the propriety of paying respect to the adversary who has put up so good a fight

From “The Raid” (chapter 25) in Watership Down: A Novel by Richard Adams:

When several creatures—men or animals—have worked together to overcome something offering resistance and have at last succeeded, there follows often a pause—as though they felt the propriety of paying respect to the adversary who has put up so good a fight. The great tree falls, splitting, cracking, rushing down in leaves to the final, shuddering blow along the ground. Then the foresters are silent, and do not at once sit down. After hours, the deep snowdrift has been cleared and the lorry is ready to take the men home out of the cold. But they stand a while, leaning on their spades and only nodding unsmilingly as the car-drivers go through, waving their thanks.

the one that sings

It may be 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 come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

“The Real Work” by Wendell Berry from Standing by Words, 1983. Online here.

from brute need

“A Major Work” by William Meredith:

Poems are hard to read
Pictures are hard to see
Music is hard to hear
And people are hard to love

But whether from brute need
Or divine energy
At last mind eye and ear
And the great sloth heart will move.

not to be forced since it springs from an experience of plentitude

The meaning of the word “creative” is very precise here: it denotes the active contribution each soul is at liberty to bring to the universal work which is accomplishing itself in our world and doubtless far beyond it. In this connection the condition of a human being of whatever kind is not essentially different from that of the artists who is the bearer of some message which he must communicate, of some flame which me must kindle and pass on, like the torch-bearers of Lucretia. Everything seems to happen as though on the human level the operation of the flesh ought to be the hallowing of a certain inward fulfillment, an out-flowing not to be forced since it springs from an experience of plentitude. Perhaps I should make myself better understood by saying in a way which actually is not exclusively Christian that the operation of the flesh loses its dignity and degenerates from its true nature if it is not an act of thanksgiving, a creative testimony.

From page 88 of “The Mystery of the Family” in Homo Viator by Gabriel Marcel (1965).

an earthly trinity to match the heavenly

For every work [or act] of creation is threefold, an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.

First, [not in time, but merely in order of enumeration] there is the Creative Idea, passionless, timeless, beholding the whole work complete at once, the end in the beginning: and this is the image of the Father.

Second: there is the Creative Energy [or Activity] begotten of that idea, working in time from the beginning to the end, with sweat and passion, being incarnate in the bonds of matter: and this is the image of the Word.

Third: there is the Creative Power, the meaning of the work and its response in the lively soul: and this is the image of the indwelling Spirit.

And these three are one, each equally in itself the whole work, whereof none can exist without other: and this is the image of the Trinity.

From The Mind of the Maker by Dorothy Sayers on page 28 (via Gene Callahan).

occupations and skills of God

A study of the ‘occupations and skills of God’ should normally begin with the two highest: the priesthood and kingship, except that these are no longer occupations properly so-called, but rather functions. These two functions are those of teacher and sacrificer, governor and judge, spiritual authority and temporal power, and are the immediate and most elevated reflections of the divine activity ad extra, and in particular of the Divine Word. As these functions go beyond the very notion of occupation, we shall postpone speaking of them until we come to explain the foundations of a sacred politics and sociology. We shall therefore concentrate in divinis on three occupation attached to and, to an extent, specifications of these two functions: the scribe, the physician and the warrior.

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (5).

to extend God’s work

The moment divine anthropomorphism is admitted, every aspect of the human condition can in some way be assumed by God. Now anthropomorphism should certainly be admitted, since it comes to us from Scripture, that is to say, from God himself.

…’My Father has never ceased working, and I too must be at work’ (John 5:17). This continuous divine activity is Creation. …God, however, wished to share this continuous activity with His creatures; to the heavenly, angelic Powers, He apportioned the stars that revolve in cosmic space, and to man, the earth, represented in the Biblical account as a garden.

…To practice a trade is to act upon the world with a view to transforming it; it is, consequently, to extend God’s work. …All occupations imitate God, Who is ceaselessly at work, for He ceaselessly creates the world. And this, in the final analysis, is the sole basis of their dignity.

From Divine Craftsmanship by Jean Hani (2-4).

The Celestial Gardener

Table of Contents from Divine Craftmanship: Preliminaries to a Spirituality of Work by Jean Hani.

    The Divine Scribe
    Christ the Physician
    The Warrior God
    The Divine Potter
    God the Weaver
    God the Architect and Mason
    The ‘Son of the Carpenter’
    Pastor et Nauta
    God the Fisherman and God the Hunter
    The Celestial Gardener
    The Master of the Harvest
    The Master of the Vineyard
    Conclusion: The Spirituality of Work and the Body Social