Labor Day: "Come, Labor On," we sang in church yesterday, (Episcopal Hymnal, #541) that ponderous Victorian hymn that my husband has aptly dubbed "the workaholic's anthem." Heavy on the Protestant Work ethic for sure -- but also good for this "back to work" season in the rhythm of academic life. It's a little corny to choose it for Labor Day, but I'm always glad when worship leaders do. "Come, Labor on," the best verse goes, "away with gloomy doubts and faithless fear/ No arm so weak but may do service here. By feeblest agents doth our God fulfill/His righteous will" (It's been changed to "may our God fulfill" in the 1982 hymnal, but I grew up with the "doth" in original version's declaration: God DOES use us. There's no "may" about it. Our work has meaning, if we attend in a spirit of discernment. And so getting back to the more the public side of my work is bathed in prayer for me. Quiet, practical prayer.
I am glad to be in a place in life where quite often, my work is my worship, even when its content is not at all explicitly spiritual. I've been praying my "to do" lists in my journals these last couple of days, not in a frenzied way, but just as a way to shift into the rhythm of a new time of year. Having this hymn turn up on the menu the Sunday of Labor Day weekend is part of that rhythm -- it happens quite often, in our liturgical tradition. I welcome the choice: it marks a season for me.
My contemplative side resists the lack of "sabbath" at the end of the hymn ("No time for rest, 'til glows the western sky") but I like it that the hymn tune is called "ora, labora:" Pray and work: Our work is our prayer. For me that's a reminder that all of the work I do has a creative dimension -- from the quite practical pedestrian writing I'm doing for some neighborhood political activism, to the talk I'm giving at a church next week, on "Literature and the Christian Life," to putting together a syllabus (at this time of year, one of my favorite art forms)for the class I will meet on Wednesday, to plugging appointments and meetings with colleagues into the calendar - another art form, rightly seen.
This year the semester starts right after Labor Day, so today, the first of September, does mark the turning from the summer to fall, even though there's another month - probably six weeks - when the garden will still be growing, and I've got chrysanthemums now in pots on the patio. There are projects that got done and projects that didn't in what seemed like such a luxurious expanse of time three months ago. Some things have borne fruit and some have not. Gardening has been great in process, but most of the tomatoes were lost to chipmunks or bacterial spot. I spent a lovely 2 hours late this afternoon pulling out weeds that I should have gotten to weeks ago - but it was better after a recent rain, and a few fall garden projects will still beckon, excuses to be outside when the weather cools - after the hurricane season! But it will be harder to get to them as other demands close in. Today I savored the hours I was able to just be outdoors on a beautiful late summer late afternoon, listening to the crickets as I worked.
Some stuff got done and some didn't. Some cupboards and closets got cleaned as planned, but a lot are still a jumble -- my office space is still cluttered and confused: getting to that will be part of my starting-up ritual this week. I finished some pieces of writing, had some rejected, others tentatively invited, and there are a few I still haven't finished. Two book reviews remain to be written. But I have a new "to do" list, and a new folder for each class, and a bookbag with only the books I need for class and no additinal papers & clutter. Yet. It's all beginning again.
I do grow a little wistful at this time of year, with my children grown and gone. It was exciting, each September, sharing with them the new teachers, new situations, new rites of passage, and in September so much seemed possible and new. And I miss that. And them. That sense of "Who are they now? How will they change and grow before my eyes this year? There's that sense of "new beginning" that the beginning of the school year always brings, and I still get it as a teacher, sharing the experience with my students. I am so grateful for this part of the academic year's rhythm: this yearly return to the sense that all kinds of new things are possible, and it is time to begin again. Busy-ness, to-do lists, a little overwhelming but also welcome as a new shapefor this time of life. I am refreshed and ready. I guess that means I've used the summer sabbath-time well.
Come, Labor on!
- Kathleen Henderson Staudt
- I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.