It’s not always easy to work out the meaning of work

Back at the Cloister of the good Sisters of Mary Magdalene, the glow of postulantcy is beginning to tarnish for our bright eyed Sister Beatrix. She has just completed a novena to her patron saint, the beloved Beatrix Potter, but alas, Sister Beatrix continues to suffer the frustration of feeling put upon to do too much work.

Indeed, each day the good Sister Beatrix sets out to weed the extensive beds of vegetables and flowers that feed the bodies and spirits of the cloistered nuns as well as the homeless families in a nearby shelter. Each day Mother Magdalene watches the elegant poetry of Sister Beatrix’s movements as she moves along the rows of plants pulling and gathering the weeds, and then carrying them off to the mulch plies. And, Mother Magdalene also notices the frustration growing on Sister Beatrix’s face each day. To watch the young sister’s action is to see poetry in motion. To observe her countenance is to feel the growing length of the hard rows she must hoe.

One day, Mother Magdalene calls Sister Beatrix into her office. Mother Magdalene proposes to Sister Beatrix that instead of sweating and toiling in the gardens, each day she will come to the cloister infirmary where Sister Honora is recuperating. Sister Honora who is 90 some years old is essentially blind and quite deaf, but she remains devout in her spiritual practices when her health allows. As she is the only sister in the infirmary at the moment, she is also a bit lonely. Mother Magdalene proposes to Sister Beatrix that she spend a few hours in the infirmary each day, demonstrating to Sister Honora the movements of pulling, gathering and mulching the weeds. The infirmary is air conditioned, so Sister Beatrix enthusiastically jumps at the offer.

The very next day, during the cloister work period, Sister Beatrix goes to the infirmary, and begins her now ritualized movements of pulling weeds, gathering them, and then hauling the imaginary weeds off to an area she envisions as a mulch pile. The relief that she feels is immense! The infirmary is air conditioned. Imaginary weeds weigh nothing. The rows are as short as she chooses. It is an easy row to hoe, a sweet deal indeed!

Sister Bridget’s euphoria continues for a week or so. And then a sense of listlessness begins to creep up on her, overshadowing her new found joy with a feeling of being becalmed in shallow waters. What is she doing? Sister Honora sleeps through her visits. And even when she is awake, Sister Honora hardly notices her. What is the point of this, really? At least when she was outside in the heat, she was accomplishing something, she was engaged in the muddy substance of reality, making a difference in her world, helping to feed the Sisters in some small way. And then Sister Beatrix started to laugh. She got it! When she was in the gardens, she was doing something, something that mattered, something she could put her heart and soul into. When she was walking through the motions in the infirmary, she was merely walking through the motions. . . and so, Sister Beatrix requested an interview with Mother Magdalene, and requested her old job back, and she returned to weeding the gardens having found the heart in her path.

May the rows that we hoe be just challenging enough to keep us focused and engaged. May we all find work with meaning and purpose. May we all find and follow a path with heart!

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One thought on “It’s not always easy to work out the meaning of work

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