Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Useful Occupation

Most of us, at some time or another, wish we didn't have a job. Adam wished that as soon as weeds started to grow in Paradise, no doubt.

But consider what life would really be like if we had nothing that we HAD to do. What would happen to our time? Would we spend endless hours searching for amusement among each other, spend time making social calls and hosting dinner parties with no real purpose, other than to while away the long hours and keep boredom at bay?

Anna Karenina is one of my favourite books - not because of the horrors of the slow moral decay of a woman given to adultery, but because of the wealth of detail that Tolstoy uses to describe a privileged people. The noble Russians under the czars were apparently a nation of playboys, and girls, spending most of their time in useless wranglings over forms of entertainment, having nothing better to do than to see and speak of "some new thing", as the Greeks did at the Areopagus. These idle Russians spent hours on playing cards, seeing new theatrical stars, creating drama between each other (if there was no other form of amusement), visiting and comparing houses, taking lavish vacations to summer or winter homes, having affairs - and getting into luxurious debt. Sounds rather familiar, doesn't it?

Of course, Tolstoy doesn't shirk a candid look at the glorious peasants, either - who have a great deal of virtues and the same number of vices. They don't want to work hard at learning new tasks, are continually convinced that their masters are out to 'get them' even when fair wages are paid, break new tools because they're fearfully unfamiliar, and constantly excuse their shoddy work by saying that it's 'just the way things are' - using God as an excuse for their lack of effort. Their best faces show either at home, where they can be the lords and masters, or under pressure at harvest time - because it's been that way for many years, and there's comfort in peaceful stability. Sounds rather familiar, doesn't it?

Petsitting often reminds me that we were created for a purpose. Without the normal occupation of sheep-herding, bird-pointing or hunting down rabbits in wild fields, pet dogs often lead an uneventful and rather bored existence. They bark at everything passing the window because it's a break from routine, and because they have nothing to do. Going on a walk and eating are their favourite exercises - nearly their only exercises. Instead of being able to trail around with their masters on a farm (where they could chase cats or hunt rats in the barn without upsetting anyone), they get yelled at when they act up, because they are a form of amusement instead of a useful member of society with specified tasks.

Cats are the same - instead of being able to hunt down pests or spend hours in trees waiting to leap upon their prey, they sit at windows and stare at passers-by.....with unblinking feral eyes. They have fights with each other simply to have some excitement. They try to eat curtains, and make messes on rugs, nibble on your hair or lay on your computer keyboard, all to advertise: I'M BORED, PLAY WITH ME!!!! And they're cute for a while, chasing strings and getting themselves wrapped up in your laundry, and rustling in paper bags....but eventually they get to the stage where they just try to sit in the best sunny spots and snarl if you use their favourite cushion. Life would actually be more exciting for them if they had to stay one step ahead of their pursuers. Makes me think of a Simon & Garfunkel song about keeping the customers satisfied: "one step ahead of the shoe-shine, two steps away from the county line...."

There's an interesting warning in Jeremiah 17: "Cursed is the man who trusts in man, and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited...those who depart from me shall be written in the earth..."

The difference between people who are doing work to God's glory, and those who are merely filling up their days without purpose, has to do with whether or not they understand what's happening behind the seemingly meaningless tasks. God's character traits of order, cleanliness, beauty, generosity, creativity, magnificence....can all be seen in His created earth. And if we, His small reflections, are merely casting around for ways in which to waste time instead of use it, that seems a crime against His commands and our very natures. That's why people who fritter away existence with gossip and pleasure and 'busy nothings' seem shriveled in soul. If they want the earth that badly, they'll get it - and that's all they'll get. What a waste!

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