Monday, April 04, 2016

Progress Report

Soak in the writings of Moses. These last few weeks, I have been struck by the wealth of imagery and import. To be a priest in the lineage of Aaron was a fearsome thing! On the first day of consecration of the temple, that magnificent and splendid feat of architecture and artisanal skill which the entire desert encampment helped to build (not out of compulsion but with joy and generosity), two of Aaron's sons decided to do things their way. Fire erupted and burned them up in front of Aaron, Moses, and the entire camp who stood trembling and unsure of what God would do next. He said proceed - with care. And the requirements were stringent. At any moment it would be so easy to get things wrong, again. I can't fathom the heaviness of heart that Aaron must have felt, or the deep awe and respect for God's power as he continued his priestly duties.

UT Austin
Thus the service in the temple began - a service that would mark and make all future generations. Everything Aaron did, had to be performed as prayer with excellence and attention to both his inner condition and his outer comportment, year after year, generation after generation. And what were his duties? What do you imagine they were? Here is a partial list: trim the wicks of the golden lamps and fill them with oil to keep them burning; slaughter the sacrifices and dispose of the ashes; bake the bread cakes, carefully measuring the flour; meticulously cleanse the temple and the priests.... Nothing short of butcher, baker, housekeeper, maintenance man. The nitty-gritty menial daily tasks performed so a people ever so beset with more and more stubborness could be close to God. The rituals and cleansings, the sacrifices and the expectations, the light and bread and oil and incense, every day, every year. And in the end, Aaron, like Moses, was prevented from entering the promised land.  So I ask, do the priests sanctify the work, or does the work sanctify the priest?

I recently read an illuminating book by Nancy J. Nordenson entitled Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure. Nordenson, a medical writer, explores the meaning of work and those seasons when work ceases. It is an evocative and meditative book that unflinchingly examines who we are in relation to what we do.

Nancy writes, "I don't spill blood for my work; I don't even break a sweat. I write and take my diminished breaths. Expand, contract, expand, contract, expand, contract. I sit and think and write and my work gets done. Beat, pause, beat. here is a sentence about transfusion requirements; here is a paragraph about complications. I wonder about the physicality of the blood in the bag versus the electronic document on my computer screen, both in the service to the same disease. Inside me, 3 million red blood cells expire for each second the document grows. Have you anything to fill you back up?" (page 63)

Under the Camponile
There are layoffs happening this week here in Houston - an expected death that has kept many of my students on edge for months. Some of them will go home to other countries and continue to work. Some will uproot their High School students with only one year left to graduate. Some will be out of a job. When the work is tedious and long and doesn't make sense. When everything goes wrong and burns up in smoke. When the layoffs keep coming and you might be next. When she is old and the benefits don't match the expenses. When his strength fails and he is forced into retirement. When I do one thing wrong and watch someone else inherit my reward. Who are we then and where next?  Have we anything to fill us back up?

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