St. Benedict is realistic about work. He assigns periods for it in the course of the day. But it is not a nine to five period. Rather work is part of the total rhythm of the day, the other elements being common prayer and lectio. Work is essential to human life, practically and transcendently. Part of its essential nature in Benedict’s perspective is that it is balanced. It is not all consuming, it is not the only identifying factor of being human. Work does not run our lives. It has its place in the life and spirituality of the human person. One is not less human because one works but it is possible that that the kind of work and the context and way in which it is carried out can dehumanize.
We are created to work. In fact our work is meant to be a contribution to the ongoing process of creation. If work is creative, then in its roots it is also sacred, it shares in what our God is doing and what Jesus is doing, for he says that he is doing the work of the Father.
If we follow God’s creative rhythm of work, then we know there are times when work ceases and rest begins. And it is that rest that creates the balance with work and can fill it with meaning. When we enter the prayer part of the rhythm of our lives, we are in touch with the Spirit that guides and directs our hands, our minds. We stand in wonder before our creator. Then when we turn and pick up our tools, whatever they may be, we are bringing that holy world we encountered in prayer to touch our everyday labor. Those tools, and Benedict calls them sacred, become part of that labor force by which God is making the world anew.
“In the beginning” we were created to care for the garden that God planted. That work of caring, in all its varied forms, goes on still. It is at its best when it is part of the larger rhythm, the balance, that makes one world out of spirit and the humble matter of our planet and its peoples.