What a trio of words we have in the title of this inspirational essay. Work, creativity, and caring are all weighty words alone. But together they are heavyweights! These words come packaged in the last paragraph of the book, The Active Life, by my friend, Parker Palmer. This is a book I have used in class, as well as the Soul Work group I lead on campus. In essence, it is a book, which tries to teach us who are involved in the active life how to be contemplatives. To those of us in the active life, it always seems easier to think about becoming a contemplative---that is, living life from the perspective of contemplation---if we could run off and join a monastery. But obviously, most of us are not going to do that.
So I appreciate Palmer’s effort to show me how, as I live an active life on campus, to live my life contemplatively. This is where that last paragraph literally grabbed my attention. Let me quote the entire sentence. “In the active life of work, creativity, and caring, we are given endless opportunities to lose ourselves so that we may find ourselves, to join with others in the great community so that, freed from the fear of isolation, we may become who we are.”
In the first place I like how Palmer identifies the active life. He does not do it by referencing jobs, such as my job of college professor. He identifies the active life with three descriptions that include countless jobs and roles. The active life involves work. I am intrigued by the fact that the word, “work,” is both a verb and a noun. I work. That is a verb. But if I say I have work to do, unless you know me, you really don’t know specifically what that means. When I was a teenager, the work that I had to do was milk cows and homework! Now the work I have to do may be teach a class, grade a paper, or homework! Those examples of work are nouns.
Work has an honorable quality to it. When Adam and Eve sinned, God tossed them out of Eden and put them to work. Work replaced Paradise-living. And it has been ever since Genesis 3!
The trick for me is to learn how to work and to do my work as a contemplative. That means to work with a degree of awareness and with some desire to appreciate what I am doing. In my case it is to pay attention to the people with whom I find myself and to be present to them. To work contemplatively is to value what I do and to add value by doing what I do.
The second big word is creativity. I suppose there is a whole host of folks who do not think they are creative. We leave that term to artists, musicians and other people who have that kind of talent. We can be tempted to see ourselves as more mediocre and involved in quite mundane work. We may not value our work, nor do we see how we add value.
The trick is not to see value in economic or materialistic terms. I add value if I can make someone’s day better. Value is added if I can bring addition to a situation and not subtract. Can I be a plus and not a pain?
If you don’t think you are creative, then move to the verb, create. Create means to bring into existence. It means to generate. We can also be re-creative. People do re-generate---create and generate again and again (that’s what the “re” means: again). Perhaps we can play around with the word, re-create. You should see our word, recreation there! Recreation should somehow be fun. Creativity ultimately is fun. To live the active life as a contemplative is to figure out how to do it so that it is fun. To be contemplative is to understand finally life is a comedy and not a tragedy!
The final word is caring. In some ways this seems the easiest of the three words from a spiritual perspective. It seems appropriate to think that a contemplative is someone who has figured out how to live, how to work and how to create with care. The contemplative is the person who has learned how to be care-ful. To live life carelessly is to have no clue what the contemplative life can be.
I am always appalled when someone says, “I couldn’t care less.” Don’t get me wrong. There are a bunch of things that I don’t care about. And there is another big list of things I don’t care much about. But I hope I never get to the place where I say, “I couldn’t care less.” That would mean that I have lost my capacity to care.
A contemplative always has that capacity to care. And we contemplatives are seeking opportunities to exercise care. In this, we are imitators of the Holy One who cares deeply about every living human being. Can you imagine God saying, “I couldn’t care less!”
With Palmer’s wonderful sentence and these three words, I have a simple blueprint for living my active life from a contemplative perspective. Each day I will work, I will be creative, and I will care. I want to do this with the quality that mimics God’s work, creativity and caring in this world. To do that will be deeply spiritual.