Over the weekend, I wrote a brief reflection on Labor Day, entitled “Working on Labor Day?” For those of you returning to work today, I hope you enjoy it, and that it gives you pause to appreciate the gift of having work:
Today, it seems that most people in the USA view Labor Day as a nice three-day weekend that marks the transition from summer to fall. For some, it signals the start of the collegiate and professional football season. For others, it reminds them that year-end business targets are closing in and the pace of work picks up. And a few still pause on Labor Day to remember its history; how it was spawned by labor movement struggles in the later 1800s, offering one day a year of paid holiday from work.
The early roots and rationale of Labor Day seem somehow removed from the modern American work experience. Sure, many still labor at menial jobs with minimal pay, but many of those same people would leap at the chance to work on Labor Day and earn overtime. Moreover, many of the nation’s 11.5 million unemployed citizens would do anything just to have a job again… And this includes white collar workers and knowledge workers, too. They all want to experience afresh the pride that comes with putting food on the table for one’s family. The dignity that comes from paying bills on time instead of being in arrears with one’s landlord, the bank, and other creditors. And they want, as Peggy Noonan writes, to restore their soul through the spiritual nature of work. Without work, our souls suffer. There is a spiritual dimension to work that we often don’t notice until we are robbed of it. Noonan develops this theme wonderfully in the first half of her Labor Day 2013 essay, just published in the Wall Street Journal.
In that same vein, I think of the word Avodah. Many of you will know of The Avodah Institute that Bill Pollard and I co-founded in 1999. Avodah is a Hebrew word. Its root and semantic domain can mean three different yet related things. Avodah means to work, as in to labor at a job. Avodah also means to serve, as in to serve one’s neighbor. And finally, Avodah means to worship, as in to worship God. In Biblical Hebrew we see all three of threes meanings of Avodah utilized throughout the Old Testament. And the three meanings continue today in modern Hebrew. The conclusion?
Work may be hard and by the sweat of our brow (Genesis 3:19). But rightly framed, our work can also be a form of worship, a way of honoring God and serving our neighbor.
This Labor Day and beyond, I hope that you can find and fulfill your Avodah.
What do you think about work having a spiritual dimension?