Thursday, March 8, 2012

Poems of Work and Rest

This is an excerpt from A Timbered Choir (Wendell Berry, Poem VII 1979):

It is a hard return from Sabbath rest
To lifework of the fields, yet we rejoice,
Returning, less condemned in being blessed.

By vision of what human work can make:
A harmony between forest and field,
The world as it was given for love's sake,
The world by love and loving work revealed

As given to our children and our Maker....
I am thinking about how work and rest are intertwined. If I do a good job at work during the week, how will it affect my "Sabbath"? If I rest well, how will it affect how I work?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

St. Nicholas, Pray for Us!

Someone (and it was't me) left three bags of chocolate coins in our group's printer room yesterday (06Dec11), the very same day as St. Nicholas' feast day.

To me, it seems very unlikely that this gesture was not a salute to the traditional story of St. Nick's fourth-century gift of three bags of gold coins to the father who otherwise would have had to sell his daughters into slavery.

Fittingly, the chocolates were left anonymously, just as St. Nicholas had done.

If I had been the one to bring the chocolates, it would have inconsistent with the story for me to explain it to others. But since I hadn't been the one to offer the salute, I was able to explain the chocolates' significance to two colleagues.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

In the Face of Flak

My colleague "Jamie" has recently been challenging and subtly belittling me in a variety of areas (my computer programming technique, my data collection methods, my grammar, etc.). There is a great temptation for me to be spiteful towards him. But I instead resolve

(1) I will stand up for myself when it is necessary for the good of the project or to defend my good name. But otherwise, I will accept criticism quietly.

(2) I will be grateful for others' encouragement when they observe Jamie's tactics. But I will not complain about him in their presence.

(3) I will try to keep a light-hearted attitude as I interact with Jamie and other colleagues. But I will not fight scathing or cynical sarcasm with sarcasm of my own.

May all those saints who grew through patience with those around them please pray for us!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Goals for the Day

"Goal: Save one person from a missile every day." I saw this written across the top of one of my old notebooks this week.

When I first started my job, I worked on a project that was related to missile defense. Of course, I didn't have any direct involvement with any of the systems. But I liked to pretend that I did, as though I really could "save" an individual from a missile, in order to make my contribution seem more tangible. It sounded heroic, dramatic, important, and it was broken down into a single day's effort.

A few years later, I switched positions, and now I might write, "Goal: Prevent one person from contracting dengue fever every day," or "Goal: Keep one plane crash from happening every day." Again, I could herein have a tangible and dramatic "aim."

However, I have come to think that a goal with a different tilt might be even better. While I think that the outcome of my work is meaningful and important, the way in which I do my work might also be very important. I want to do a good job technically, but also to do a good job at charity.

Along these lines, I might write in a notebook these days, "Goal: To share the love of Christ with at least one person every day," or "Goal: To be distinctly joyful to at least one person every day." Within a single day's effort, may I pursue this goal as best as I can.

Friday, November 18, 2011

An Office of Prayer

At Mass this morning, Fr. Jose Raul asked everyone to remember that a church is a "place of prayer." This inspired me to think of my office as a place of prayer as well.

Of course, an office is not the same as a church. But I think that it has the potential to be a more prayerful place for me. Here are some initial ideas:

(1) I don't need to check my personal email account any more than once or twice during the day. Very seldomly do others need to contact me that suddenly. Ultimately, checking for email may be a way that I seek a connection with others. During these times, perhaps I can seek a deeper connection with God.

(2) I don't need to check the news as often as I do. Some days, I might not need to check it at all. On my way home, I can hear it on the radio. At home, I can read the newspaper. Rather than seeking the moment-to-moment sensation of world events, perhaps I can seek the ignition of the Holy Spirit.

(3) I don't need to eat at work when I'm not hungry. Sometimes, I do this as a way to mentally take a break. If anything, at these times, perhaps I can seek to be fed by the grace of Christ.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Imitation Aim: Patience With Others

A meeting ended this morning and this conversation took place:
* "Joey" [to me]: You can ask either me or "Chuck" about X since it seems like we're on the same page.
* Joey [to Chuck, facetiously]: Hey, are you getting tired of that yet? I mean, are you getting tired of us being on the same page? We're usually not.
* Chuck: Oh, oh no, I think that it's great.
Chuck and I have been working a lot together. Joey is overseeing our work. Often, Joey seems to come up with his own ideas and disregard our ideas. Joey generally has sound ideas. But sometimes it is difficult to swallow his eagerness to switch the approach.

If Joey had asked me those questions instead of Chuck, I probably would have glared at Joey and said something like a smart-aleck.

I admire Chuck's patience with Joey, particularly since I know that Chuck has suggested that he is often leery of Joey's ways as well.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Repugnant Means, Meritorious Acceptance

The other day, I came across another idea from Fr. de Caussade which seemed like a match for my time in the office ("Abandonment to Divine Providence" 48):
[The Lord's] love wishes to unite itself with us ... That is his supreme purpose, and to accomplish it he uses ... the most unpleasant and most delightful of happenings ... The more naturally repugnant to us the chosen means, the more meritorious is our acceptance of them. So every moment of our lives can be a kind of communion with his love.
"Repugnant" is the word that jumped out at me. In long meetings, on uneventful afternoons, with assignments which change repeatedly, would such description ever fit how I regard them? (It's likely.)

Once again, I resolve to face such moments with perseverence ("meritoriously"). After all, they may be my means of growing in love for the Lord.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

A Surprising Question

"Are you a religious man?" I was asked by "Carl" this afternoon.

(1) "What?" I first thought to myself and, "Oh no!" Were all of my efforts to be a man of faith in the workplace that muted? As an undercover missionary, was I placing too much emphasis on the "undercover" and not enough on the "missionary"? If Carl hadn't been in doubt about whether religion was important to me, why would he have asked?

(2) But then I also thought perhaps his question signaled the opposite. Perhaps in asking if I was religious he was indicating that he had observed enough in me to suggest that I am religious. Perhaps I act in such a way that I made it comfortable for him to ask such a question. Perhaps his question suggested that I am being an undercover missionary just the right amount.

Carl's question arose a question that is still unsettled for me. What is the "right amount" of missionary to be in the office? How obvious should it be that I am a man of faith, a man who loves Christ?

Note: When Carl asked his question, I had been telling him about my audio book about the philosophy of science, and he wanted to tell me about a book that he had read that asserted that there was no inconsistency between science and the Bible. Presumably, it also contained some philosophy about science.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

St. Mary of the Mills, Pray for Us!

This morning, I awoke earlier than expected, and was able to go to 6:30 AM Mass at St. Mary of the Mills Parish on the way to my office.

There are many good aspects about this parish, such as their Tuesday Adoration hours, at which I can stop on my way home from the office. But my favorite of them all is their patroness.

I do not know if "St. Mary of the Mills" is an actual title for the Blessed Mother. An Internet search on this term exclusively yielded pages from the parish website. More likely, the parish name is intended to be "St. Mary" and when it was founded it just happened to be near the mills. (This website gives an interesting recap of the parish's history and includes the picture below.)

Nevertheless, I like to think of the name as part of a special devotion to Our Lady and it will remain "St. Mary of the Mills" all as one for me.

While I do not work in a paper mill or steel mill, I still like to consider my office job in the context of such physical labor. My desk and computer are my "mill" where I put forth my intellectual "sweat."

May Our Lady pray for me and my colleagues as we go about this work.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

The Parable of the Engineers

Though I studied mathematics and I call myself a "mathematician," a lot of my job is effectively engineering. When I heard this morning's Gospel (Mt 25:1-13), I thought about engineers:
Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, `Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.' Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps....
In the following six verses, the Gospel finishes with the foolish maidens trying to obtain their oil, not being able to obtain any, and ultimately missing the bridegroom. At the same time, the wise maidens went with the bridegroom into the marriage feast.

As I listened to this Gospel, I thought about how the wise maidens' attentiveness and preparation had been very important. Because they prepared, they were able to meet the bridegroom (a parable for being with Christ in Heaven, I think).

On some level, just about all of engineering involves preparation: thinking about how a process should be designed, how interruptions should be handled, how a certain tool might be used and could be made more useful. Intrinsically, engineers must plan ahead.

Faith, on the other hand, can often seem to run contrary to planning. It is not that a faithful person must not or should not plan. However, having faith in the Lord often requires willingness to put aside one's plans.

Consequently, it seems to me that preparation is often looked down upon through the lens of faith - again, not as a necessity, but in practice.

Therefore, when I heard this Gospel, I was happy to make the connection between preparation in Heaven. Of course, "planning" for Heaven and planning an engineering process may often be fairly different. But I like having the parable as a context within which I think about my planning at work.

Can my engineering planning help me to become better at planning ahead for Heaven?