They also serve…

There’s a Quaker joke (not a terribly good one, I admit, but have you ever heard any good Quaker jokes? yeah, me neither) about a man who comes into Meeting for Worship and is puzzled by the lack of anything obvious happening, so he leans over to the Friend next to him and whispers “Excuse me, when does the service start?” The Friend shrugs and answers, “When the Meeting for Worship ends.”

The idea that service – to each other, to the community, to the world – is an integral part of a person’s religious life is found in many faith traditions; one expression of it that particularly speaks to me is the Dalai Lama’s emphasis on the importance of “universal responsibility”. More generally, it comes back to the idea of mindfulness: that whatever work or task we are engaged in should be an expression of our values and our commitment to doing good in the world as we perceive it.

Which is not to say, of course, that there aren’t a fair number of good and moral reasons to take on a job that goes contrary to one’s own values – dire financial straits being the one most usually cited. Not gonna lie, it’s a tricky balance, and the fact that a lot of us have to make those kinds of choices on a daily basis, between obeying our conscience and paying our rent, is maybe the best expression of the fundamental flaws in our economic system that I can think of right now.

Here’s a poem I’ve always liked, by Octavia Butler, from The Parable of the Sower (a brilliant book, incidentally):

Respect God:
Pray working.
Pray learning,
Pray creating,
Pray working.
Pray to focus your thoughts,
still your fears,
strengthen your purpose.
Respect God.
Shape God.
Pray working.


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