Today is not only Labor Day, it’s also an important one for me personally as far as ancestor cultus is concerned: my step-father’s birthday was today, and my last grandmother (whose funeral I officiated at in ’07) also died on this day. I also had a role in my step-father’s funeral in January of 2004, so I’m sort of “connected” to these individuals even more than I would have otherwise been due to their being my family (biological/genetic or not).
So, just to start out, I’d like to say: Fred and Grandma Leytze, you’re not forgotten, and are dearly missed! Ignis Corporis Infirmat; Ignis sed Animae Perstat!
But, today is Labor Day in the U.S. more widely, and whatever the origins of the observance (which are important, and one should know about them–five-day work weeks are a good thing!), the issue of “work” and all it entails is an important one for consideration, not only in terms of life generally speaking, but in terms of our spiritual practices.
I’ve varied the usual Benedictine/Freemasonry saying above, “Laborare est orare” (“To work is to pray”) to “Laborare et orare” (“To work and to pray”), not only to highlight a particular meaning, but also because when expressed as infinitives, those verbs in Latin are equally plural passive imperatives, thus they could also mean “Be worked and be prayed, everyone!” Let me start with the first, and move to the second, but talk about why I’ve chosen the first in an altered form rather than its more traditional one in doing so.
The question of “is” happens to be one that has become more and more important in my own thinking recently; and, rather than this being some strange imitation of Bill Clinton, it’s something that I’d like to devote a full post to at some point in the near future. But, I don’t know that the metaphor or the equation (and it could be either one equally due to that word “is”) necessarily holds up as well as it may have in the past, and in particular contexts of spiritual community or fraternal order. Certainly, one’s work can be one’s prayer; or, as the Findhorn people say, “Work is love in action.” It’s a nice ideal, and a valuable one; and yet, it’s not often realized, and I’m quite suspicious of things which become slogans without actually leading to results, and which can become slogans in place of the real effort which makes them come about. I don’t think I need to expand upon the many cases in which the latter has been blatantly the case in recent news, much less the history of humanity overall…
Like it or not, we live in a world that–due to various factors–has strongly separated the “mundane” from the “sacred,” the “profane” from the “spiritual,” and has often put apparently impassable barriers between the two. This, of course, leads to negative types of compartmentalization, so that someone can do things for an hour or two on Sunday and be considered “religious,” while never enacting the various ideals of that religion in their daily life six days and twenty-two hours during the rest of the week. This sort of thing got to me even as a young child and teenager as I was growing up and going to church with my parents.
Given that the above separation is the case for the modern world (and the rule rather than the exception, however we might prefer it to be otherwise), and there is the tendency to adopt slogans in place of “doing the work,” including in modern forms of paganism and polytheism, we thus are left with something which I think can be equally useful and important, and also quite in line with polytheism, which loves adding “and” to almost anything where it is possible to do so. Instead of “work is prayer” being our operating motive, why not instead “work and pray”? Then, we can devote ourselves to our work–whatever it is–as fully and in as aware a manner as possible, and never assume that we’re doing it for other reasons, or that we’d rather be doing something else, or that what we are doing really is something else…and by attempting as far as possible to have that presence and that dedication and that purpose in whatever it is we do, THEN we in fact realize what the ideal as previously phrased happened to be. BUT, then we must also pray (or do whatever it is our spiritual practices are), because you never get “two-for-one” or “one-stop shopping” where polytheism is concerned, as I’ve written previously.
But, there’s also the grammatically passive construction I’ve outlined above, which may take a bit more explaining to fully understand. We’re told over and over again in school in instructions related to writing that we’re not to use passive verbs, and that active is always preferable. People whose personalities are passive, or who are passive-aggressive, are often considered tiresome, uninteresting, and doormats/pushovers by others. And, in the overall world of homoeroticism, past and present, the “passive” partner (the “bottom,” the “sub,” the “girl,” etc.) has often been demeaned and ridiculed, even when more modern sensibilities on sex roles and what constitutes a “real man” have been challenged. (In the ancient world, though, you were out of luck if you were passive, though anally was not as bad as orally…)
From the viewpoint of spirituality, however–particularly where there is a personal-transformational element involved–passivity is not necessarily a bad thing. While there is activity and an active sense that must permeate, for example, one’s experience with a “dark night” process in one’s relationship to one’s deities, ultimately it is a passive process, and one in which we do not take the lead, call the shots, or have much say in the matter (other than “keep going” or “give up”). In these transformative processes, we certainly get “worked over” by the gods–in every possible way that phrase can be imagined!–and thus we are “worked” as much as we “work” ourselves.
And, here’s the bit that people often don’t quite get: we’re also prayed as much as we pray. As much as I pray to Antinous, Antinous also prays to the other gods and heroes through me, and even to himself through me…and, as people’s relationships with their deities become closer and closer, more and more intense, I cannot but imagine that similar things happen with them also.
While it’s not easy to put these things into words (and, being both a theologian and a poet, that should never be an impediment!), it is possible, it’s just not comfortable to do so quite often.
So, today, on this day of rest from labor (for some people–certainly not everyone gets this day off), don’t stop working and being worked, and certainly don’t stop praying and being prayed.
More in a moment…