It is in work that we find the test of our relationship to the creation because work is the question of how we will use the creation. For Wendell Berry, work done well brings us into a wholeness and cooperation with the creation in which we can find health. Bad work destroys the connections that make life possible. For Berry good work is like a prayer—it is an act of both gratitude and return. Good work accepts the gifts of creation and uses those gifts to further their givenness. There are seeds that lie for decades in the soil, waiting for the right conditions before springing to life.
It doesn’t take much looking in our economy to see that in fact there is a great deal of work that doesn’t pray, work that disconnects us from our sources of life rather than moves us toward wholeness. For work to pray, it must have a sense of vocation attached to it—we must feel some calling toward that work and the wholeness of which it is a part, that there is something holy in good work. Vocation is a calling and prayer is a call and response, deep calling to deep. For work to pray, to be vocation, it must be brought into a larger conversation.
When we move low, back toward the soil from which we can learn the lessons of our true humanity, we are able to enter a kind of peace. Humility is not about struggle or diminishment but rather is the relief that we are not God, that we are mere creatures. Wendell Berry gives voice to this truth in one of his most popular poems, “The Peace of Wild Things”: