"Comes a time when you've got to get down on your knees."
This is one of my favorite quotes from the movie, I Remember Mama, adapted for screen from the play of the same name. It is based on one of my favorite childhood novels, Mama's Bank Account. In this scene, Mama is consumed with worry and frustration as her youngest child lies in a hospital recovering from successful surgery. At that time, parents were not allowed to see their children for the first twenty-four hours following surgery and Mama cannot bear the thought of not being there when her baby, Dagmar, wakes. So, home, and to her knees, to scrub the floor, pray, and wait for a solution, which does indeed come.
Pope John Paul II reminded the world often of the dignity of all work, especially that of manual labor. As a young man, he was a laborer in a work camp during the Nazi occupation of his native Poland. It was a different environment compared to the artistic and intellectual one of his home, but he recognized the dignity in the men and the work they accomplished with their hands. He never lost that respect and tried to help others see it during his pontificate.
I found myself going to my knees earlier this week when I was so busy and trying to figure out how to solve various problems of the week. I scrubbed my kitchen floor by hand and was rewarded with the satisfaction of a job completed. An actual finished product with instant satisfaction. As a teacher, I did not see instant results of my efforts and knew that some results might not even be seen until future grades. Now, as a mother, results are even fewer and the space even wider. I know that the seeds I am attempting to plant may not bear fruit until my children reach adulthood.
Not only do you witness results and the completion of your efforts, but work of your hands helps to clear your mind. It is cleansing to the mind and the body. I remember seeing my mother pull weeds from her flowerbeds, pick pecans, or clean when she had something pressing on her mind. When my mother lay in ICU, my father told me that he just wished he could go out and haul some hay, or bush-hog a pasture. Even in his state of dementia, his mind was going back to the pattern of previous years.
He was a university Professor, but we operated a small cow-calf program on our little farm. We spent weekends working with the cattle and maintaining fences and pastures. I was a girly-girl who would have preferred having a tea party or at least lounging in a chair with a book. Male chauvinism was a popular theme of television programs and movies in the 1980s and I often lamented the fact that my father did not subscribe to that ideology! No, I was expected to help with chores such as picking pecans, lawn work, feeding cows, and other simple tasks associated with country living. My maternal grandparents were hard-working people who had spent much of their lives on farms in Oklahoma. There was not one of the proverbial "lazy bones" in their bodies and my mother shared their work ethic. I am so grateful for their example.
When my dad became a dean at another university we moved from the farm. Absence made me appreciate the chores and duties of my former home. My mother and I maintained the yard in our new home. We spent countless hours together, mowing or planning, planting and maintaining flower beds. When I had a big college project or student teaching unit to plan, I would head out to the yard to think. With my hands busy, my mind was free to ponder and problem-solve. Some of my best papers were written after yard work.
Now, my work is usually in the realms of cleaning and cooking, especially baking. Completed loaves of bread or a finished pie is a satisfying sight and occasionally, I try to incorporate practices like kneading and rolling in sets of three to remind me of the Holy Trinity or making the sign of the cross in the dough. Women of previous generations often incorporated these spiritual reminders in their household tasks and I am just beginning efforts to make them a part of my routines.
"...down on your knees." Not by coincidence is it the position for scrubbing a floor, but also the posture for prayer. So, while I was able to be satisfied with the results of my labor, I was also able to busy my hands and clear my head to listen to God. I'm thankful that as an adult, I now appreciate the gift of the dignity of work and its place in the spiritual life. I pray that I will seek God in the simple tasks of my daily life. St. Joseph, the worker, pray for us.
Work is a good thing for man--a good thing for his humanity--because through work man not only transforms nature, adapting it to his own needs, but he also achieves fulfillment as a human being and indeed, in a sense, becomes more of a human being." Laborem exercens