Suellen Alfred. Rev. Nancy J. Nordenson. Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure. Oro Vallet, AZ: Kalos Press, 2014.
Nancy J. Nordenson wrote Finding Livelihood after her husband suddenly lost his job. Her book is not for the young person “dreaming of the future” but for a time when the future is present. It is not about career choices but about exploring the way one has chosen or was assigned. Nor is it about leaving “unsatisfying work or finding a new job. Instead, this book is about developing openness to meaning and beholding meaning where you find it. . . . even when work fails to satisfy.”
Finding Livelihood is nonlinear in structure and explores intricate problems from a variety of angles. Thus a reader can step into the book at any optional place and find a variety of topics offered on any given page.
Nordenson defines “livelihood,” the key word in the title of the book, as “the way of one’s life; . . . the sustenance to make the way possible; it means that both body and soul are fully alive thanks to what has been earned or received by grace” (4). She works as a freelance medical writer and derives great satisfaction from her work. From time to time, she collaborates with other medical personnel, including physicians, in order to understand and explain a complicated case “to accrue truth, to gather it from all corners” (27). Such work requires making order from disparate pieces of information and combining them into a whole narrative. According to sociologist Peter L. Berger, such an activity signals transcendence (28), a term which is defined by Karen Armstrong in her book The Case for God as “that which ‘climbs beyond’ known reality and cannot be categorized” (376).1Karen Armstrong. ...continue Here, it would seem, we have a conundrum between Berger’s idea of transcendence as creating order and Armstrong’s idea of transcendence as climbing beyond known reality. Such a conundrum is appropriate to the direction of the book as it moves between the mundane and the sublime throughout.
Nordenson is not blind to the difficulties that work often brings. She is aware that working for a difficult supervisor or not being acknowledged for the work one does can cause great dissatisfaction, but nowhere in the book does she provide a practical answer for such a dilemma except to suggest seeking employment elsewhere. Yet she neglects to recognize the millions of people from all walks of life whose jobs do not bring them satisfaction but who do not always have an alternative.
Nordenson acknowledges that while work is important, leisure is also important. She quotes Josef Pieper from his book Leisure: The Basis of Culture, in which he contends that “it was in periods of leisure, among people who could afford leisure, that the extras that pushed society forward arose. The discoveries of geometry and calculus came about from men with time on their hands, not from men laboring deep down in a mine” (74-75). Ironically, for these men, in leisure the mind was freed to do a kind of intellectual work that benefitted society in general. However, Nordenson continues to return to the importance of taking joy not only in leisure but also in one’s work.
At one point in the book she lists seven reasons to work:
• To participate in a community and society. Such participation
implies that a need exists for what one has to give.
• To earn a return on the work, including income.
• To contribute to and help another person.
• To fulfill a God-given purpose.
• To have a place and a reason to apply creativity and passion.
• To have a social position, a place to fit in.
• To hold up one’s end of things.
In a later chapter, Nordenson explores whether “only some people, doing certain kinds of work, have a call or a vocation” (169). She implies that one’s work is a call or a vocation if one can answer yes to the following questions: Is the work just? Is it a fit for your gifts? Is it artful or craftsman-like? Is it independent? Does it feel like play? Is it true, good, and beautiful? Is it self-fulfilling? But the closest she comes to answering these questions is to write, “Your eyes may not be able to see beyond where you are now, and that must sometimes be enough” (193). She ends the book with a benediction:
May your work be absorbed into the overall spiritual journey that is your life.
May your longing for meaning be satisfied even when your daily work fails to satisfy.
May you be refreshed in the time and space of Sabbath-like leisure.
May we all make peace with the shadows. (224)
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|1.||↩||Karen Armstrong. The Case for God. New York: Anchor Books, 2009.|