The spiritual nature of Labor Day

By Rabbi Marc Gellman, Tribune Content Agency on

On this recent Labor Day my thoughts turned to the spiritual nature of work. We all know the economic nature of work but there is something deeper and higher about work if we will just pause and consider it between the hot dogs and mattress sales.

The first spiritual element about our work that I would lift up this year is pride. Pride in our work is a fundamental foundation of personal satisfaction and social cohesion. I remember this moving passage from the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. about pride in work:

"We are challenged on every hand to work untiringly to achieve excellence in our lifework. Not all men are called to specialized or professional jobs, even fewer rise to the heights of genius in the arts and sciences; many are called to be laborers in factories, fields, and streets. But no work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence. If a man is called to be a street sweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michelangelo painted or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, "Here lived a great street sweeper who did his job well."

And a Labor Day story for all my fellow clergymen and clergywomen. Our work can sometimes blind us to the truth of our holy work. We can drift into thinking that we work for our congregants only and that is just not the truth of our calling. A story from my tradition:

Rabbi Nathan of Rabshitz was walking in his little village and he saw the lamplighter lighting the streetlamps. He greeted the man and asked him, "Who do you work for?" The lamplighter told him that he worked for the shtetl and he asked the rabbi,, "Who do you work for?" The rabbi stopped and thought and then said to the man, "I will pay you double your salary if you will come to work for me." The startled lamplighter asked the rabbi, "What do you want me to do for you?" The rabbi said, "I want you to come to me every morning and ask me just one question, "Who do you work for?"

Remember my brothers and sisters, we work for God.



(Note from MG)

My teaching about religions of blood and religions of belief contained a misleading confusion about how one becomes a Catholic versus how one becomes a Protestant Christian.

When I included the Rosary as the best summation of the beliefs Christians must profess in order to be Christians the text should have read Catholic rather than Christian. The Rosary is at the heart of Catholic belief but obviously not at the heart of Protestant belief at least for the past 500 years. Several faithful Protestant readers of the God Squad helpfully corrected this theological typo.


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