Friday, May 01, 2009

Measure Twice, Cut Once: Nature and Grace in the Workplace

One thing among many others I learned from my father in law was the handyman's axiom "measure twice, cut once." It's true in the spiritual realm as well.

Another axiom...the angelic doctor Thomas Aquinas declared "grace perfects nature."
Let's think about the two axioms together. For every action we take we need to make two measures, either consciously or unconsciously.

First, is what I am going to do in accord with the nature of who I am? Second, is what am I going to do in accord with the law of grace?

If the two appear to be in conflict, then we need to ask ourselves very carefully whether or not we are asking the right question.... or perhaps the right question in the wrong way. Conversely, if we aren't even asking ourselves these questions, we have lost our spiritual way.

That seems to be the case today when ethical decisions boil down to a relativistic "what's best for me" or when the questions AND their answers are driven by a compulsive need to assert one's "true" identity. I am a woman, I am gay, I am Hispanic,... you fill in the blank.
That sort of self-absorbed compulsion should not be a surprise. It happens when folks have concluded that there is no objective moral truth, nor AnyOne who cares enough to set boundaries. I am left to my own devices, to create my own reality, to decide who I am. and because there are no givens, affirming that identity and having everyone else affirm me becomes an obsession.

It seems to me, though, that the life of St Joseph under the title of "Worker" provides a sublime illustration of how both of these important questions can merge gracefully, and be answered in a single life. And that answer is the antidote to today's workplace malaise as well as the perpetual identity crisis.

Of course, Joseph's work as a carpenter (or more accurately in ancient terms, an artisan) , reflected his nature. Most of us have experienced the fact that some of us are born handymen- others not. But if we are handy with tools, we still intuitively feel that "yes!" SOMEWHERE in our lives, whether it be in the heft of a hammer, the beauty of a well composed symphony, or the symmetry of a perfectly balanced spead sheet.

But Joseph's hidden life as the teacher of Jesus, as the listener to God's whispering guidance, as protector of the Blessed Virgin Spouse, are pieces of his life which represent the perfection of his own nature under Grace.

One healing aspect of this Feast is the very fact that it does bring the two facets of life back together. Indeed, the feast arose out of the Church's felt need to respend to the plight of workers in their struggles to gain basic rights.
In that sense, St Joseph the Worker lays blessing hands upon the turmoil of our work lives, as he did on the labor struggles of the nineteenth century. Nowadays communal May Day demonstrations have given way to the supreme isolation of texting during meetings.
But, the basic bifurcation is still the same. We think that what we do for work is our work, not God's. And the answer to that unnatural split is in the sublime nature-grace unity of bringing our tools, our work lives, our hours of labor, to the altar of Grace.

St Joseph, Pray for Us!

No comments: