Monday, September 3, 2012

Endless Labor Days

This is a fitting re-post, from August 6, 2010:

Work Without Pay
Did you ever see any of those old movies where they had prisoners out on a chain gang, splitting rocks all day?  Can you imagine how that must have felt?  You swing a heavy sledge hammer hour after hour, on a large rock, until gradually you smash it into small stones.  And then, when the huge stone is entirely smashed down into stones --- then you’re moved on to begin smashing on yet another huge stone.  Not only is your work endless, it is fruitless and without purpose.  No one will ever use the smaller stones you created.  They will never go into the construction of a building, a wall, or even a walkway.  They will just be left there, unused.  Truly this is a cruel form of punishment, to see that your life’s work means nothing.  There is no pay for your work beyond that of basic subsistence --- you are allowed to live, if this can be called living.
Unfortunately, this prisoner’s lot can describe the life of many a man, only he doesn’t know it.  And the guards of his prison are himself and his neighbors.  Oh, these prisoners may imagine their lot is different.  They see the water they get to keep them going as beer and wines and cool refreshments.  They may see their evenings as great retreats from labor, as vacations.  They may see their basic cots to sleep on as luxury homes or mansions.  They may look on all these things as their rewards for their labors, some great things they have for all their efforts, --- but really, these are just things to subsist on.  Other men with differing tastes and values may be equally happy to drink dirty water, eat rotten food, and sleep on the ground.  They are not all that different.  But for none of them does their life’s work create anything, it’s just like the wasted stones.
You cannot serve both God and mammon.
My lips will speak words of wisdom.
No man can buy his own ransom.
In his riches man lacks wisdom:
He is like the beasts that are destroyed.
Psalm 49
A man who works only for earthen riches is working for the basics of life --- food, shelter and clothing, just like a beast of burden.  Oh, he may feel a desire for better quantities and qualities of them, or to build reserves of the basics “in case” he wants or needs more, but a rich man only consumes a limited amount of those things, just like a poor man does.  Some men may think their life’s work DOES produce fruit, some walkway of their stones which all future men might walk on – some great invention or discovery.  They delude themselves; few if any will use their work, or it will quickly be exceeded by someone else’s great invention or discovery; it will be forgotten when they go to the grave.  And most importantly, their life’s work creates nothing which they themselves will ever use; they die and it is gone from them.
But some men accept the basics as they are given, and do not focus on achieving any of the riches of this world.  They focus on their life’s work, the stones, and they insist on building something with them, something for themselves.  Oh the guards and the people around them will jeer and try to tear down their efforts.  They can’t imagine how all the stones can create anything of value, and least of all equate to the value they set on the basics they consume.  They want and need rewards now; they can’t see to work for the future.
But some men persist in building great houses out of their stones.  One by one over their life they create a mansion of beauty.  And even as it grows larger and more comely in shape, still the others will go home to their cots, or fancy homes, and each night and say:  “That’s nonsense.  He’s wasting his whole life to create that mansion, and by the time he actually completes it, he’ll die.
And they’ll be right.  Those builders of stone mansions will die, but so will those who are satisfied with whatever luxuries they are given in this world, whether real or imagined.  Both will die.  But one will die to nothingness, for he created nothing that lasts beyond his earthly life, while the other dies after creating a mansion, and in his death the Great King will come to admire his life’s work, and then the two of them will live in the mansion, together, forever.
Neither man was paid anything in this life, for his life of breaking rocks, although one man thought he had received pay of great value in his earthly life.  But in death it all had no value at all.  The other man many never have felt paid, may never have felt he had anything of great value in this life, but was satisfied to work without pay now, for an eternal reward.
Which life really yielded the greater riches?

Lord, take away my heart of stone.
I read that prayer the morning after I wrote the above meditation.  I think it says more in those few words than I said in all mine.  But if they should not speak to you, please forgive me if I write still more, of what those words said to me.
Our hearts are the large rocks we chip away at all our lives.  They are the core of what we are as men of clay, as men of earth:  the hardest most unmoving things on earth, rocks.  We are always chipping away at our rock hearts; things around us affect us and our hearts are sometimes moved, chipped.  But for many people the movement goes no further than chipping at their hardness.  And if their heart should really be shaken by something around them and be torn asunder, most often they just move on to the next rock, a new hardness of heart, but really no different. 
But if their hearts should be chipped away in love, by Love, their immovable hardness can be chipped into smaller stones which can be re-formed into new, beautiful hearts.  They can be created into mansions of beauty.  The rock there can become a solid construction material, stronger than it was originally, to last forever:  if we build it of Love.  Take away our hearts of stone, Lord, yes, please.  And let us together build a house of love:  for each other, and for all our family, where we can live in for all eternity.
We are called to grow in holiness our whole lives.  What analogy would you create to describe this growth?  I like this one, a rebuilding of our hearts, in Love, a task for a lifetime, a hard task, but one I can see myself working on. 
And I’m willing to work without pay --- for now. 

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