I often think that “Labor Day” must be a confusing holiday for people who are not native to our country or anywhere else that it is celebrated at some point in the year. Some of us have taken to calling it “Non-labor Day” since it is, after all, a day when everyone but essential workers stay home or go on picnics or celebrate in other such ways a “day off” from work.
In the United States, Labor Day is always the first Monday in September. It is, the internet says, a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity and well-being of our country. It became a federal holiday in 1894.
The ideal of “a good day’s work for a good day’s pay” has become rather skewed in many quarters in our country as we see inequity in many places where CEOs of big companies are paid exorbitant salaries while people like health aides are paid little more than minimum wage for their caring service to the sick and elderly members of our society. We need to work continually for just wages in every sphere and celebrate new initiatives where we see young executives sharing their wealth with their employees and many of the richest people establishing foundations with specific projects that seek the betterment of our world.
I took a look at Joan Chittister’s chapter entitled “Work: Participation in Creation” in her book, Wisdom Distilled From the Daily, just to get another, maybe more spiritual, perspective on the topic. Here are some tidbits that might be helpful as we attempt to balance our view on things.
Work in the monastic tradition is not something to be avoided. Work is not a punishment or a penance. Work is a privilege.
In monastic spirituality…work is not a private enterprise. Work is not to enable me to get ahead; the purpose of work is to enable me to get more human and to make my world more just. (I like that one!)
Genesis is very clear on the subject. “Then God took Adam,” Scripture says, “and put him in the garden to cultivate and care for it.” (GEN. 2:15). Adam was put in the garden to till it and to keep it, not to contemplate it; not to live off of it; not to lounge. Even in an ideal world, it seems, God expected us to participate in the co-creation of the world.
So here’s to those who provide meaningful work and good environments for their workers! Here’s to those who give of themselves for the good of society and their own growth and well-being! And here’s to those whose work is for justice for all, especially the under-served among us. May we all come to understand the connectedness that we share in the building up of the world, God’s sacred creation.