Contemplation in Action

With the school holidays coming to an end, and with my post last week on discerning whether to remain in work we do not want to do, I have been thinking about work and the discussion which took place at the Norwich Christian Meditation event I went to. Fr. Korko spent some time looking at Contemplation in Action (Karma Yoga). He drew on the Hindu scripture the Bhagavad Gita (The Song of God) and the Bible to elucidate an attitude to our work that is consistent with what Ignatius describes in the First Principle and Foundation, and in the Contemplatio of the Spiritual Exercises.

3.5.2. Work with noble motive.

Yesu Nama Japan (The Practice of Jesus Prayer), Korkoniyas Moses S.J.

Whatever you eat, drink or do, do everything for the glory of God.

1 Cor 10:31

Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer in sacrifice, whatever you give away as charity and whatever austerity you perform do that as an offering unto me.

Bh. Gita 9:27

In the Principle and Foundation of the Exercises, Ignatius says:

Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

and that is:

…to praise, reverence and serve God our Lord,

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

Hence, the first thing to consider in our work is the reason we are doing that particular job: we may or may not enjoy the work we are doing, but the question for us really to consider in our hearts is how does it help, or not help us, praise , reverence and serve God. It might be we need to change our work if it leads us away from God, or we need to change our own attitude to the work we are doing. I know I said in my last post that I could not bear to watch or put clips from the Green Mile, but the ending might be relevant here (spoiler alert):

The scene, although not exactly an imaginative contemplation about what decision something might want to have made when considering it from their death bed, it has echoes of it. Had he fully appreciated what was moving in him at the time, would he have made different decisions about how he responded within his work? With respect to those not making a change to their material situation, Ignatius says:

…to propose a way for each to reform his manner of living in his state by setting before him the purpose of his creation and of his life and position, namely, the glory and praise of God our Lord and the salvation of his soul.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

And it was largely around this point that the discussion took place; if I do not want to do the job I am doing, and I recognise that I am working with noble motive and for the greater glory of God, I can keep going.

I was struck recently about James Martin’s commentary in Jesus A Pilgrimage, in the chapter on Parables, where he describes a perspective on the Parable of the Talents, given by Barbara Reid. It is worth giving the detail here. He says:

The third servant, she believes, is the honorable one, because he refused to cooperate with a system in which the master continues to accrue large amounts of money while others are poor.

Reid sees the parable as a warning “about the ease with which people can be co-opted by an unjust system,” while also encouraging disciples to expose unfettered greed. She believes that the last verse shows what happens to those who “blow the whistle” on the rich and powerful.

Jesus A Pilgrimage, James Martin S.J.

It is the phrase of “manner of living” and these two ideas that are converging in my mind. What if we remain in our current state, or work, and look to change the manner in which we live within it? What would have happened if Paul Edgecomb (the character played by Tom Hanks in the Green Mile) had acted on the movements within him, and refused to execute John Coffey? Would it inevitably lead him to refuse to walk the Green Mile with others, and therefore put him in a position where his employment in the prison was completely untenable? Barbera Reid refers specifically to greed in her interpretation, but the principle can be applied to all areas where there are unjust power structures, where we cooperate with the structures of sin in the world.

In contrast to slaves, who live in servile fear of a greedy master who metes out cruel punishment to those who will not go along with this program for self-aggrandizement, Jesus’s disciples live with trust in God, whose equitable love emboldens them to work for justice here and now while awaiting ultimate fulfillment.

Jesus A Pilgrimage, James Martin S.J.

Difficult questions…where can we stand up and say no to the unjust, immoral practices we encounter in our work, without having to make the decision to walk away completely, or be made to leave? I have done it several times, and it is not comfortable.

3.5.2 Work dutifully with gratitude.

Yesu Nama Japan (The Practice of Jesus Prayer), Korkoniyas Moses S.J.

This section is grounded in the Contemplatio, or more accurately, Contemplation to Attain the Love of God, which comes at the end of the Spiritual Exercises, and the point is, not to earn the love of God, that is already given, but to learn to love as God loves. And the first point that Ignatius makes is that:

…love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

and Ignatius suggests that we:

…recall to mind the blessings of creation and redemption, and the special favours I have received.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

We are encouraged to see all that supports us as gift, and from here, we are moved to gratitude to God, and desire to work for His purposes in the world so that we regard:

…all our works, our responsibilities, and all of our actions as a contribution to the welfare of the world.

Yesu Nama Japan (The Practice of Jesus Prayer), Korkoniyas Moses S.J.

3.5.3 Work as an instrument of God.

Yesu Nama Japan (The Practice of Jesus Prayer), Korkoniyas Moses S.J.

When we consider of God that:

He conducts Himself as one who labours.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

then:

When we collaborate with God in the work of His creation we become like Him.

Yesu Nama Japan (The Practice of Jesus Prayer), Korkoniyas Moses S.J.

I love this idea that in our work, we are collaborating with God and becoming like Him…it is the seed of God, growing into God as described in the Meister Eckhart quote in the header. Fr. Korko expresses the attitude that the ability and opportunity to work is a gift, and that when we work, we are instruments in the hands of God. It is from this context that the question from my last post was posed. I mentioned that I had had periods where I was not filled with joy and zest at going into work, but that I had kept in mind what had drawn me into the work in the first place (first time choice). I’m thinking specifically of when I had glandular fever and subsequently experienced chronic fatigue. Here, it illustrates the example of noble motive: I was struggling with the work, but focus on my reasons for being there was part of what kept me going into work. Being grateful for my job, and the support I was given to enable me to be there as much as possible, in spite of the difficulty, something that was expressed in my examen at the end of the day, was also important.

Can be printed onto A3 (or A4) card to have in your prayer spot if it helps you to remember the process.

It kept me aware that health and opportunity to work were not given to everyone, and the benefits of autonomy and security were not to be taken for granted. How many people are only one decision, an illness or unfortunate occurrence away from being on the streets? Also important was the grace I always asked for in my morning prayer: the energy and the strength to do and be what He would have me do and be today. Ignatius encourages us to ask for the graces we desire at the beginning of our prayer, and in doing so, we are handing ourselves over to be instruments of God.

Can be printed onto A3 (or A4) card to have in your prayer spot if it helps you to remember the process.

And again, receiving such grace was also a point of gratitude at the end of the day. And there were days when the answer was:

Not today. You need to rest today.

And I would sleep for several hours, with a sense of relief that at least for today, I did not have to fight against the lethargy in my body.

Contemplation in action, in relation to the work we do, brings God right into the heart of what we do: our work is not separate from our faith in God, it is the means by which God can act in the world when we allow ourselves to be His instruments in the world. Being mindful of God in all things and living consciously and reflectively opens us to this potential.

1 thought on “Contemplation in Action”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s