Sunday, July 10, 2011

Living to Work instead of Working to Live

Nadya's fruits and vegetables, village on the Volga in the summer.


Quotation from Dorothy Sayers's essay:  "Why Work?"  1947.

... Work is the natural exercise and function of man–the creature who is made in the image of his is not primarily a thing one does to live, but the thing one lives to do. It is, or it should be, the full expression of the worker’s faculties, the thing in which he finds spiritual, mental, and bodily satisfaction, and the medium in which he offers himself to God....his work is the measure of his life, and his satisfaction is found in the fulfilment of his own nature, and in contemplation of the perfection of his work...every man should do the work for which he is fitted by nature...we should no longer think of work as something that we hasten to get through in order to enjoy our leisure; we should look on our leisure as the period of changed rhythm that refreshes us for the delightful purpose of getting on with our work... We should all find ourselves fighting, as now only artists and the members of certain professions fight, for precious time in which to get on with the job–instead of fighting for precious hours saved from the job....

For Sam and Marie

A sunflower volunteered among the pea vines,
and by the time I was feeding spent vines
to the hens, it began to open its gold disk,
facing East, not toward the greatest sun
source, which is west in the hot afternoon.
Like me, it stands alone. I have friends,
but who else makes obeisance to my deeply
planted Inner Sun? She said, "I know no one
who lives closer to Sayers’s idea of doing
one’s true work, and that’s a compliment."
I was startled that she understood, when I’ve
wanted new words to tell the old tale of
"serving God." What else is it but that,
and yet the God word often builds fences,
and I like to take down barriers that hold
people apart. Doubts circle, too, like
the mosquitoes that find my bare arms
and legs when I water vegetables in the
evening air. I return to my vocation,
rather, three of them: writing, teaching,
farming. I write as I breathe. Words rise.
I can turn a field of sunflowers in my
direction with "news that stays news"*
and is more needed than ever: "Be who
you are. Live the life you are meant to live.
Let Truth dwell in your inmost being."
When I teach, I stir fire in those who also
write and wish to live more dedicated
to their work, make time for their infant
vocations. Do we recognize a call to do
our own work well in our time? If we
listen, we can hear it. So much din
in our world, but we know how to quiet
din. Humankind is good at shutting out
the querulous, demanding voices when
we choose to. The hens rush toward me,
raucous, when I appear on the back porch,
but they can wait while I pull the weeds
to be their afternoon tea break. Everything
can wait while we still our souls to listen.
"Growing one’s own food is more noble
than to be religious," asserts the Talmud.
A deeper truth lies hidden there: to dig
and weed, to assure the plants have
food and water they need, to observe
weather shifts and note insect pests,
to harvest at the right time, to feed
ourselves "power vegetables," as
Melissa convinced her children she
was growing, is to be handmaiden
to the great earth cycle of death and
resurrection, of the awe-inspiring
transformation of seeds to plants
many feet high, carrying, for our benefit,
their life-sustaining fruits. I live to write
and teach. I have enjoyed many kinds
of work, but only I can write my books
and find my words. Only I can establish
and protect a life that nourishes me
and my work. Only I can have this inner
certainty that, sooner or later, my words
and my life, as lived, will matter, will
feed that field of sunflowers turning in
my direction, while I, quietly, persistently,
face East, toward the Rising Sun, or some
would say, toward God, that Inner Sun
I call my Deep Self.

* Ezra Pound’s definition of literature in The ABC of Reading.
I've had some trouble posting Marilyn Levinson's interview, so I'm trying this one first.  Hopefully this one will "publish" and then Marilyn's.  JH

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