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The Holiness of Work

August 29, 2020

Another Way for week of August 28, 2020

Mulling Things Over: The Holiness of Work

I love doing mindless work like canning tomatoes, snapping beans. My brain goes into overdrive thinking, processing, figuring things out. In my youth I didn’t even mind gathering thousands of eggs in the chicken house because my head was free to explore, remember, plan, dream, and get things thunk out. (Yes, I know that’s not a word but it works for me.)

Of course I will be glad to wrap up garden work this fall, but there is something about it that calms my mind: going out in the cool of the evening and just pulling weeds or picking bugs off green bean leaves or even pulling the watering hose around. It is quiet and restful work, when your soul can communicate with God and maybe vice versa.

For our church service the other week (pastor was on vacation), we watched a worship service by video from the Island of Iona off the west coast of Scotland. The island is just three miles long by one mile wide. One of my daughters went there a few years ago for a week of thinking, exploring, praying and processing. She stayed in an ancient abbey there used originally by Catholic monks.

Abbey on the Isle of Iona, Scotland. Photos courtesy of Doreen Davis.

In the year 563 a man named St. Columba brought Christianity to Scotland. After the Reformation in 1560 the abbey was not used for centuries. Part of the ruins there are an ancient nunnery and cemetery. Many Scottish kings, and the real Macbeth are buried there. Then in the late 1800s restoration work began and around 1938, Christians began using the partially restored abbey and grounds for worship. Today an ecumenical group calling itself simply the Iona Community (not all members live there) holds worship twice a day year-round. They also host visitors and volunteers who desire to experience the “thin space” of the island and grounds, where most people feel incredibly close to God.

Main altar and choir loft in Abbey.

When you think about island countries like Scotland and Ireland you might have heard of “Celtic spirituality” which typically focuses on worship, prayer, study, and work as part of the Christian life. “Work” is an interesting element for one’s religious life. Everyone who stays at the Iona Abbey participates in some of the daily chores of keeping it going. Guests help with cooking, setting tables, washing dishes, washing linens, cleaning bathrooms, and so on. While our daughter was there, in addition to rotating meal prep/clean up duties, she signed up for what might have seemed like a “fluff” chore: making sure the tea supplies were kept up with clean dishes at the ready. But keep in mind: tea time is six times a day in Scotland.

A courtyard and cloister for walking and meditating.

If you are older, perhaps you also recall that one of the hallmarks of a “vacation” at Grandma and Grandpa’s involved pitching in to do the work, whatever was needed and you were old enough to do. I didn’t spend a lot of overnights at my Grandma’s house—I think it made her nervous—but if we went for the day we were sure to get in on whatever work or activities she had going that day. I’m glad my grandsons are learning to do house and yard work and love the letter that one wrote about doing chores at his home. In careful kindergarten printing, it says “Dear Grandma and Grandpa, I cleaned up and I had fun cleaning up. I love you. James.”

Actual letter from James, 2020.

Is it too much of a stretch to think of our daily work routines as part of our spiritual experience? Washing dishes or wiping tables after a meal should bring thankfulness that you had food to eat. Certainly, preparing food and serving it should make us mindful of the source of our food. In making beds, we can thank God for rest and restoration—or pray for a good’s night sleep to come!  

May it be so in your life today. And enjoy your Labor Day holiday!

Who keeps the windows clean and the plants growing inside the Abbey?


How often do you think of your work as holy therapy?

What would you like to change in your approach to your work life?

We’ll continue this theme on working for a few weeks and I would welcome your stories or comments on any of these angles:

–The life cycle of work, starting with work babies do

–The work of young adulting

–Paid work/jobs

–Volunteer work as a retired person

–When your work is just “staying alive”


For a free small booklet called “Work Therapy” with 35 succinct tips on enjoying our work, write to or Another Way Media, P.O. Box 363, Singers Glen, VA 22834.

All photos courtesy of Doreen Davis, except for James’ letter.

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. She is the author of nine books. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.  

  1. Calgon (or other magic travel conveyance), take me away to an Abbey where there’s silence, honest work, and other holy therapy. It strikes me that your piece here harmonizes with my post on writing as worship this week. Such synchronicity! 🙂

    The letter from James is precious; the year 2020 has yielded lots of good in spite of the upheaval of the pandemic. You are a wonderful grandma, Melodie.

  2. Elaine permalink

    I just want to say that I am very grateful for the work ethic that was instilled in me by my parents (we have an Anabaptist heritage so that explains some of it) [smile] . Of course I’m sure we did our share of grumbling but I think all 6 of my siblings would agree.

    I, too, picked up on the harmony between your post and Marian’s. Both are thought provoking.

    • Elaine, interesting you picked up on the harmony. Hmm, I think that’s in my blog name, eh?? My daughter told a precious story this week of her three boys–especially the older ones– pitching in to clean up a mess the youngest, almost two-years-old, made. She was startled to see them clean it up-while she was tied up with working her own job, at home. They too usually do their share of grumbling but this time they reinforced to Edward, “No dump puzzles. No dump.” 🙂

      Like Marian says above, 2020 has yielded some good growing for a lot of us.

      • Elaine permalink

        I enjoyed your daughter’s story of her little ones. They are learning a good lesson and it’s heartening as a parent to see them implementing it. So cute how they told Edward not to dump the puzzle. They are teaching him, too. 🙂

  3. Glad for the connections you are making here, Marian. Bless you. We enjoyed his letter!

  4. It’s interesting how much of our life we can change just with our attitude and spirit. It’s funny, Monday I walked into work and I passed by another employee there. He said the usual – good morning, how are you?
    Usually I would have replied with the typical Monday morning grumble, but instead I said – I’m good. I woke up, I’m alive, I have a job to come to – which means a paycheck Friday and food on the table. And with that change of attitude I found that my whole spirit was different for the day.

    What a glorious week that must have been for your daughter. I’ve heard of the island of Iona – since Iona is my mom’s name & we have some Scottish blood – along with Welch and a sprinkling of Irish. I didn’t realize you could visit there. I enjoyed reading your post!

    • Your mother’s name is Iona, how interesting! From what I understand, it takes several boat/ferry rides to get out to the island but according to all my friends who’ve been (mostly from our church), it is worth the going. I was proud of my daughter for going by herself–she had spent a semester in Edinburgh and they had a 10 year reunion and she decided to take a side trip at the end to Iona and I know it is very special to her.

      Thanks for your example of how our own approach and attitude towards each day can be changed with just a few words or thoughts. Indeed it is a great day and supposed to be cooler here–after an inch of rain yesterday. God bless your Sunday in a special way!

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