Monday, September 5, 2016

Meditation for Labor Day

The wisdom of the scribe depends on the opportunity of leisure; 
only the one who has little business can become wise. 
How can one become wise who handles the plough,
   and who glories in the shaft of a goad,
who drives oxen and is occupied with their
   and whose talk is about bulls? 
He sets his heart on ploughing furrows,
   and he is careful about fodder for the heifers. 
So it is with every artisan and master artisan
   who labours by night as well as by day;
those who cut the signets of seals,
   each is diligent in making a great variety;
they set their heart on painting a lifelike image,
   and they are careful to finish their work. 
So it is with the smith, sitting by the anvil,
   intent on his ironwork;
the breath of the fire melts his flesh,
   and he struggles with the heat of the furnace;
the sound of the hammer deafens his ears,
   and his eyes are on the pattern of the object.
He sets his heart on finishing his handiwork,
   and he is careful to complete its decoration. 
So it is with is the potter sitting at his work
   and turning the wheel with his feet;
he is always deeply concerned over his products,
   and he produces them in quantity. 
He moulds the clay with his arm
   and makes it pliable with his feet;
he sets his heart on finishing the glazing,
   and he takes care in firing the kiln. 

All these rely on their hands,
   and all are skilful in their own work. 
Without them no city can be inhabited,
   and wherever they live, they will not go hungry.
Yet they are not sought out for the council of the people, 
   nor do they attain eminence in the public assembly.
They do not sit in the judge’s seat,
   nor do they understand the decisions of the courts;
they cannot expound discipline or judgement,
   and they are not found among the rulers. 
But they maintain the fabric of the world,
   and their concern is for the exercise of their trade
~ Ecclesiasticus 38:24-34

Though he was a craftsman and not an academic, my father was still a scholar. He was always reading. His example is the one I immitate by keeping a stack of books by my chair, picking up one, then another, their subjects ranging from history, to fiction, to health and wellness, to nature. He was a printer and proud of his trade, and he was also widely respected  in our community for his wisdom, his kindness, and his dedication to serving our neighbors. Had the wise preacher of Ecclesiasticus ever met my dad, he would have had a very different opinion of people who work with their hands and their backs.

While the writer may not have known much about working people, the message of this passage is clear. Artisans and craftspeople, the ones who make and build and produce; they are the threads that hold the "fabric of the world" together. Today, our country whose history of labor relations has far too often been an inglorious one, takes a moment to give thanks for the sacrifices and to honor the labor of everyone who helps to carry the burden of civilization.

As we honor the workers of our own age, we also remember those who came before. The ones who struggled and bled and died to win the dignity and respect of powerful people who were eager for profit, but reluctant to reward the laborers who made their profits possible.

On this Labor Day, may we remember that when we work, we honor ourselves and one another. Work connects us to our neighbors and to creation. Everyone deserves the chance to know that connection. And everyone who works deserves to be rewarded and respected.

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen ~ Collect for Labor Day, the Book of Common Prayer, p. 261