Work is Love Made Visible

Years ago, when I was doing a lot of calligraphy, I lettered a gift for my son’s elementary school teacher. It was a line from Kahlil Gibran: Work is love made visible. As an at-home mother doing unpaid work, I found encouragement in those words. They also spoke to the way this wonderful teacher gave so much of herself to her students. She brought out the best in them, and inspired me as well.

My Calligraphy Tool Drawer

I happened to see her last week at the gym, where she told me that she still keeps that piece of calligraphy on her desk. I’m touched that she still values it after all these years. The idea of work and love being connected remains meaningful to me, though I think about it in broader ways now that my children are grown.

Gibran not only speaks of where the best work originates, but offers a different way of understanding the purpose of work. His is a world view that values the heart more than remuneration. It views life as more than a market exchange, and sees work as an offering, not a commodity.

This perspective is a lifeline when we’re trying to create something new. In a world that measures the value of work by the price it brings in the marketplace, creative effort with no guarantee of reward can look like a waste of time and energy. Showing up to work when there’s no certainty of the outcome requires ignoring the clamor of the buying and selling, and placing ourselves in the service of something else. It can feel pretty risky.

Gibran understands that submitting to the work we are called to do is an act of devotion. We manifest love of life, of other people, of art, and of the divine spark in creation, when we undertake our work. What I’m realizing these days is that an artist’s work, too, is love made visible.

In Matthew, Jesus is quoted as saying, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?” Materialistic priorities get in the way of seeking a rich spiritual life, or what he calls the kingdom of God. Over and over, he tries to get people to see that through dwelling more fully in the spirit we find not only our truest self, but the essence of life, and joy, and meaning.

His teachings help us focus on the work in front of us, apart from its material reward: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”  We can’t make the world praise or even accept our work; we can’t expect the market to validate our efforts. We can only do our best at the effort we’re making today.

We’re all asked to look at the world with love, to listen for the ways it calls us, and to respond as best we can. That call and response depends on where we meet the world, on our gifts and circumstances. It can take unlimited forms.

But in whatever way we respond, answering that call becomes more meaningful, and perhaps somewhat easier, in remembering that we are trying to manifest a spark of the divine—to find a way of making love visible.

Following a Guiding Star

We’re approaching Epiphany on January 6—the twelfth day of Christmas, or “old Christmas” to some. I hear the word epiphany used mostly in the context of literature, probably because real-life epiphanies are rare. It means a flash of insight, a sudden revelation about the true nature of things. Something happens that triggers a new way of seeing things, a new level of understanding. A perspective that was previously unattainable suddenly becomes the new reality.

Photograph from the Hubble Telescope


Epiphany as a holiday, or holy day, recalls the story of the Magi from the East who, in seeing a new star at its rising, discerned that a very special child was born. The child’s star was such a powerful sign it moved them to set out on a long journey, following the star as it led them to see for themselves the hope that had come into the world. When the star stopped over the place where the child was, they were filled with joy. They entered the house and saw him with his mother, Mary, then knelt before him. Their appearance honored his singular fate as they offered him precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Who couldn’t use an epiphany? We stand in need of a higher mind, a broader perspective. Or at least an idea we haven’t thought of before. Both individually and collectively, we live with conflict that seems irresolvable. One worthwhile goal can undermine another. Resources are limited but needs go on and on. The realities of life don’t fit together in a way that makes sense. How can a king be born in a stable? How can one who dies on a cross be a savior?

Carl Jung taught that learning to live in the dualities that life deals us is how we grow. We’re pressed to develop a broader view that somehow encompasses both. But there’s nothing comfortable about it. When we can acknowledge the individual value of those things that exist in tension, rather than rejecting one or the other out of hand, there are no simple answers. But in living with that complexity, rather than forcing an artificial simplicity, we become better, deeper, more thoughtful, more compassionate people.

As we move toward Epiphany, and into the new year, what kind of guiding star are we following? What is the vision that calls us to lift our gaze upward, above the daily routines, to cross the desert and move toward hope? What do we need to see for ourselves that will give life meaning? These questions aren’t easy, either. But in asking them perhaps we invite the possibility of Epiphany.