2014 Lent 21

celtic yin yang

I Corinthians 9:16-27

Work is paradoxical.

We encourage children from the earliest age to think about what they want to be when they grow up.  We also tell them that they can aspire to be anything they want professionally.

Right now, in my own family, I have a daughter on the cusp of graduating from high school.  I’m giving her lots of counsel about a possible major, the adult work world, and so on.  Wouldn’t it be great if she could find the perfect blend of low stress and high pay?  But what is that?  Every doctor and lawyer I know deals with stress, usually lots of it.  Not sure I’d want to wish a life of that on her for all the money in the world.  But every low-stress job I can think of is low paying–except, perhaps, some teaching gigs and the arts.

Anyway, we raise children with a sense of liberty towards work.  “Work hard in school,” we say, “so that when you graduate you can do something you love.”  I even heard Ryan Seacrest say something along these lines last night on national TV: “‘Cause when you love what you do, it’s not work.”

So a lot of kids grow up with the idea that they will pick a field of work they love, of their own choosing.  And many succeed at it.

There are those, however, who end up doing something they’re not entirely fond of, something that was never a dream for them, in order to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves and their loved ones.  In fact, this may be the majority of folks out there.  Next time you’re in a restaurant, for instance, just look around.  How many table servers, cashiers, and managers do you think got into this facet of the hospitality industry because they were following a dream?  For these folks, work must feel something like enslavement.

So the kids in the first scenario end up seeming privileged over those in the second.  For the first end up doing what they love, and it doesn’t feel like work to them, at least according to Ryan Seacrest.  But the second face daily drudgery, working for the man, as it were.

But, you know, in each scenario the tables can be turned.  In the first, where liberty points us to find a career, in time the obligation still turns the job into labor, toil, even drudgery.  No lawyers and doctors I know fit the second scenario; that is, they went into their field following a dream.  But most (if not all) end up feeling somewhat enslaved to their positions after a while.

On the other hand, one of the most joyful persons–and in that sense one of the most liberated souls–I know is Daniel, my gardener.  He entered this line of work for little more reason than to make ends meet.  Yet I’m sure he sleeps very well at night, free from most (if not all) anxieties and stresses that plague others.

So Paul mentioned liberty yesterday.  Today he says that in his liberty he has entered a sort of enslavement so that others might be won over to the good news of Christ.

We can transfer the paradoxical nature of work over to self-discipline.  Christians who enter into a Lenten discipline do so voluntarily, in liberty, into a sort of self-imposed forty-day enslavement.

But maybe paradox isn’t the best way to look at it.  Maybe, instead, what we should see in all this is balance.

Does this sound eastern to you?  Wherever there is some yin, there must also be some yang.

Yes, it is eastern–in the sense that it resonates with worldviews with origins in the far east.

But it also resonates with Christian origins.  Paul writes about it here, after all.  And didn’t Jesus himself teach in a paradoxical way–or, in other words, in a way that seeks balance?  How is it that we are already raised to new life and members of a new kingdom yet still must die an earthly death on this here-and-now kingdom?  And so on.

I looked for an image (on Wikimedia, so copyright issues are copacetic), as I often do, to illustrate this post.  How interesting to find an ancient Celtic piece of art with yin-yang symbolized on it!  It dates from the mid-first century AD, a full century after Julius Caesar conquered Britannia.  Had Christianity, or the school of thought leading to Christianity, yet reached the island by the time this piece of art was made?  It’s debatable–not to be ruled out, but neither to be assumed.  What is certain is that western thought had entered the island.  So, apparently, had eastern.

Doesn’t this provide us with another picture of liberty and enslavement?

The ancient Celts knew what it meant to live at rest in tension–to live in balance.

So did Paul.

We can too, whether it involves job dissatisfaction, unrealized dreams, factions in the church, political unrest, wars, or simply the joys and sorrows of everyday life.


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