Friday, June 25, 2010


Fr. Dale Matson
The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. (Genesis 2:15 NIV)
We live in a society less and less accustomed to work. By this I don’t mean white collar employment but blue collar folks engaged in the trades or in unskilled workers that live by the sweat of their brow. As someone who worked in construction for seventeen years, I still remember the construction season. We had to work long days and weeks to make up for the winter when deep frost made excavation and grading impractical. During the drive home each day there was a satisfying fatigue that burned bone deep yet provided an intoxicating peace.
The reality is that we were created to work. Work is an irreplaceable kind of exercise. It is unique because it yields a product. The product could be food, a home and even a good bead on a weld. The hot days for me were made hotter as a journeyman plumber when melting the lead ingots for sealing the jute in the joints in cast iron sewer pipes. Sweat would drip into the lead pot and create a small crackle as the moisture was absorbed. Work is also a cooperative effort. Many jobs require more than two hands or two skills. Friendships develop and stories are shared. A work colleague can become a confidant. Firefighters and law enforcement officers become brothers and sisters in the meaningful work of protecting others.
Today gym memberships abound. White collar folks know that sweat comes from places that a shower never reaches. Sweat brings out the toxins of a stressful life and the gym is a place where “parallel play” mimics normal human interaction. Each person with a set of ear buds listening to this or that tune selection. There is a good burn following an intense spin class or weight lifting circuit. Then there is a shower and off to the office. However, there is no work product and no guild fraternity.
There is something holy about work that sets it apart from other forms of exercise. Not only did God create us to work. He gave us a job and this job gave us meaning. For the workaholic his meaning has become his job. He has become an idolater and his god is the center of his meaning. Like all idolaters, the workaholic has replaced God with a gift of God.
I believe worship is a human activity closely related to work. Both take us out of ourselves, give us meaning and make us hardy and resilient. We are better for it. God is a worker also for we are His handiwork. “For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10). Liturgy is the work of the people and so in liturgy we are become coworkers with God. In liturgy the work we do divides both the year and our lives into sacred seasons. We perform sacred work marking points along the path of our earthly journey which includes Baptism, Confirmation, Marriage and Death. Our work in the Liturgy is also preparatory for the specific work God calls each of us to do. Our assigned work is specific to each of us and we are also each a living stone in the building of God’s Kingdom held together by our chief corner stone Jesus Christ.
“And now , Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do, to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord.” (This is a portion of the concluding prayer of the liturgy, from the Book of Common Prayer p. 366).


Rev. Mike Spreng said...

I worked in construction for about 5 years and now that I look back at it, I can see how I learned about God and his creation. There is an infection of natural law within these kinds of jobs that cannot be found in the office or in the classroom.

Nice job!

Dale Matson said...

Rev. Mike,
Thanks for the affirmation and nice link to "Anglican Thought". I bookmarked it. In construction as in agriculture, there is a lot of looking to the heavens.

Georgia said...

Thanks, Fr. Matson, for this beautifully-written evocative post on work.

One good thing I learned from my Mama (as a female growing up) was how to enjoy, even love to work. She had a bank, grocery store and insurance agency, and could have kept us busy, but she talked some of the local farmers into hiring us (me, my sister and the cousins who lived with us) to work on their farms during the summer so we could earn our school clothes money and stay busy. Idle hands were the devil's workshop in her book.

The farm work was much more satisfying than working in her store, well, for one thing all the cute local guys were out there and their mothers brought us awesome homemade food, from fried chicken, homegrown vegetables, biscuits and blackberry or peach cobbler. We got really dirty and sweaty, and really really tired, but we learned the meaning of serving and earning our own money.

The ability and love of work stayed with me, and at age 40+, I could work rings around the young people I hired to help in our garden.
'Course there was the matter of desire and lifestyle. They began their weekends on Thursday and unlike me, they didn't get enough sleep and abused substances. They needed a Mama like mine.

Besides business, Mama read water meters, picked up pecans when times were tough. After that, she got herself elected to city council, then she went up to the State capital to get grants to build homes with heat, air conditioning and indoor bathrooms to replace the run-down shantys in our small town.
She also taught us to cook, clean the house and yard, to catch fish, clean and cook them.

When I took adolescent psychology, the book mentioned the bonding and peacemaking effects of having rival gangs work together on a really difficult project. A movie that showed what learning to work hard can do for the character of a young person is The Ultimate Gift.

I greatly appreciated your post on depression too. One of the Scriptures you quoted (II Corinthians 1:3-4, is special to me. It is used constantly in all the Christian recovery and healing prayer classes I have taken over the last several years trying to both recover from the effects of childhood trauma and become equipped for His service at the age most people retire.

Congratulations on your ordination as well as your prior career and spiritual accomplishments. I have followed your career track from deacon to priest and read about your prior work and life experiences on the various Anglican of my psychology professors recommended the path you have taken to our class.

Blessings and peace,

Tallahassee, FL

Dale Matson said...

Georgia from Florida,
Thanks for the comments which reminds me of the two weeks I worked on a Michigan Farm at age 14 near my folks lake cabin. Haying on Michigan's rolling hills involved a tractor pulling a baler which dropped the bales on the ground. We walked along side a hay wagon pulled by another tractor and threw the bails up to be stacked on the wagon. It was a difficult throw when the bales got about six high. The wagon would pull up to the barn and we would be up in the mow unloading, carrying and stacking the bales in the mow of the barn. I cannot remember a more dusty, thirsty and hot job. The hay bales poked holes in our arms and the sweat made them sting. One dollar an hour plus lunch. The farm girls used to follow us and talk to us as we worked. That was the good life!