C. S. Lewis, writing to Arthur Greeves:
How thankful you should be that you never have tasks which are not chosen by yourself.Â And yet I don’t know.Â So many things have now become interesting to me because at first I had to do them whether I liked them or not, and thus one is kicked into conquering new countries where one is afterwards at home. â€”Â Collected Letters 1.831.
One of the helpful fruits of Andi Ashworth’s Real Love for Real Life is that it challenges us to think more biblically about what “work” is and what we mean when we speak of a “vocation.”Â All too often, it seems, we think of work as something that takes place in public or something that we do in order to earn a living or something productive.Â
Even if we’re not so foolish as to think that men who go off to the job site work and women who stay at home with the kids don’t, we may still think that taking flowers to an elderly lady in a nursing home or playing with our children or spending time with a friend isn’t really work.Â “I have work to do,” we say, and off we go to our chores.Â Or we feel guilty because we spent the afternoon helping our daughter put together a puzzle â€”Â as if playing with our children isn’t part of raising them and as if raising them isn’t one of the most important “jobs” we have.Â
Because it doesn’t feel like work to us or perhaps because we know that people in the world around us don’t regard caregiving as work, especially when it’s fun, we often don’t either.Â The result may be that people who invest their lives in raising their children or giving time and presence and care to others feel as if â€”Â or are treated as if â€”Â they aren’t really productive members of society, as if they don’t really have important vocations but are rather on a sort of permanent vacation.
As the custodian of a theology of work, the Church has often missed its opportunity to encourage caregiving as a legitimate vocation, one that has an essential place in God’s kingdom.Â God calls his people to labor in a great variety of settings.Â A view of work that only values what is paid or visible to the public reflects a small and incomplete understanding of all that God has given us to do.Â When even the Church fails to make the connection that caring for people takes thought, creativity, time, effort, and hard work, it becomes obvious how much society’s ways of thinking have seeped into our own.Â We are embracing a diminished meaning of work and vocation rather than the biblical meaning God offers us (p. 95).
Almost a year ago, I quoted a passage from C. S. Lewis on the medieval word solempneÂ and talked about the relevance of what Lewis says for our worship services today.Â Now here’s Chesterton on much the same subject:
Celebrations need not be any less solemn because they are celebrations.Â In fact, in the finest parts of our old English poetry and general literature the very word used for a feast is a “solemnity.”Â The loss of this sense of the solemnity even of a happy festival is one of the most serious losses of our time, one of the most serious gaps in our version of the art of enjoying life.Â For unless you learn to take joy solemnly you will never learn to take it joyfully. â€”Â G. K. Chesterton, â€œOn Long Speeches and Truth,â€Â Collected Works 27: The Illustrated London News 1905-1907, p. 133.
Apparently Chesterton did not think that only a casual celebration, complete with flip flops, shorts, and Hawaiian shirts, could be joyful.Â Â NorÂ did he think that solemnityÂ was the same thing as gloom.Â Quite the contrary.Â The best and highest joy, to Chesterton as to Lewis, was a solemnÂ joy,Â grand and majestic,Â and the best and highest celebration was a solemnity.
As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I like breves, coffee made with cream. Sometimes, I’ll add sugar to coffee, and I do enjoy the occasional bit of hazelnut or vanilla.
How mild these additions seem in comparison to the way coffee was served in the past, say in eighteenth century England:
The “bitter black drink,” as Pepys used to call coffee, was made in various ways, all equally peculiar. Usually served black, it was boiled with egg shells, and sometimes mixed with mustard or sugar candy. Some concoctions included “oatmeal, a pint of ale or any wine, ginger, honey or sugar to please the taste . . . butter might be added and any cordial powder or pleasant spice.” — Claudia Roden, Coffee: A Connoisseur’s Companion, p. 29.
When we remember that hospitality comes from an attitude of welcome, we open ourselves to an abundance of creative opportunities for shaping a hospitable life.Â Hospitality often involves the practical help of food and shelter, but it also includes the provision of relational connection.Â Hospitality can be as simple as making extra food for dinner and welcoming our children’s friends to the table or being the one to initiate conversation with strangers at church, parties, or other social gatherings.
Hospitality can also mean sitting with another person over coffee, showing an interest in who they are.Â The “ministry of presence,” as Christine Pohl calls it, is hard to comprehend in our task-oriented world.Â Spending time with another person, listening, sharing stories, and bridging the gap of our modern isolation requires an eternal perspective.Â If we are aware of our call to hospitality, we will be more likely to remember that people are more important than finished tasks. â€” Andi Ashworth, Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring, p. 71.
Claudia Roden’s Coffee: A Connoisseur’s Companion begins with a history of coffee and that history, to my surprise, turns out to have been full of controversyÂ In the Middle East, where coffee drinking originated, coffee became very popular — monks and dervishes drank it to stay awake — but eventually it was seen as a threat to Islam:
Coffee houses sprang up everywhere people congregated. The more they frequented the coffee houses, the less they went to the mosques. Backgammon, mankala, dancing, music and singing, activities frowned on by the stricter adherents of Islam, also went on in the coffee houses. Having made a start within religion, coffee became a threat to religious observance (p. 13).
The Ottoman Grand Vizier suppressed coffee houses in 1656. And in Europe, there was no less controversy: “A Women’s Petition Against Coffee was published in London in 1674, complaining that men were never to be found at home during times of domestic crisis since they were always in the coffee houses, and that the drink rendered them impotent” (p. 14). In France, the wine merchants saw coffee as “an unwelcome competitor” (p. 14).
And the church?
In Italy it was the priests who appealed to Pope Clement VIII to have the use of coffee forbidden among Christians. Satan, they said, had forbidden his followers, the infidel Moslems, the use of wine because it was used in the Holy Communion, and given them instead his “hellish black brew.” It seems the Pope liked the drink, for his reply was: “Why, this Satan’s drink is so delicious that it would be a pity to let the infidels have exclusive use of it. We shall cheat Satan by baptizing it.” Thus coffee was declared a truly Christian beverage by a farsighted Pope (p. 14).
So feel free to pour yourself another cup or visit a coffee shop and let someone pour one for you. Satan doesn’t own anything delicious. It’s God who made coffee beans grow and gave them caffeine to energize us and made them taste good, especially when brewed right and served with a bit of sugar and some cream … or however you like it. Myself, I think I’ll have a breve this afternoon, with thanksgiving.
If there’s one thing that characterizes our modern world, it’s that people don’t have time for each other. We rush from one activity to the next; we’re overcommitted, overscheduled, frenzied, and worn out.
Many of our time pressures come from outside sources and are not within our control. The long hours required of corporate workers, the travel and the deadlines that factor into certain careers, the hours of homework loaded onto our children â€” all of these demands come from systems and decisions made by someone else. But we also normalize frantic lifestyles when we don’t need to. Whether we take a job that requires a long commute, sign our children up for too many extracurricular activities, or take on more projects and commitments than we can handle, our decisions have long-range consequences that we need to consider. Even when we are the ones who made the series of choices that got us into our schedule crunch, we often feel that our schedule controls us. We yield to the pattern of continual intensity without offering any resistance. We have a growing realization that overcommitment and overwork are destructive, but in general, we don’t seem to change.
And as we give in to the standards society sets for us, we gradually internalize what our culture values: efficiency, speed, control, and quantity over quality. In this paradigm, caregiving seems very much out of place. Caring does not “maximize” our time. Its richest rewards are not tangible. Its results are not quantitative. Caregiving needs are unpredictable, and sometimes meeting them is a slow process. â€” Andi Ashworth, Real Love for Real Life: The Art and Work of Caring, pp. 37-38.
Later, Ashworth writes:
Most of the time caring cannot be summarized, quantified, or measured. Not much is ever finished. Or if it is finished, it’s finished only for a short time. Families and houseguests get hungry again, clean houses get messed up, babies need to be fed every few hours. The most significant results of caregiving cannot be seen with human eyes.
A young mother once told me that when she weaned her baby, she realized that she had given eight hours a day for an entire year to nursing him, and even more when he was a newborn. Without eyes to see more than finished products, we can miss the significance of this special kind of work. Hour after hour of rocking, holding, and feeding a baby might not look like much to some people, but this mother knew better. She had captured a time that could never be repeated in the life of her child. She had given him the gift of herself and in doing so had to let go of the idea that a productive life is measured by a series of completed, visible projects (pp. 45-46).