Some Thoughts and a Prayer for Labor Day

Let the favor of the Lord our
God be upon us,
And prosper for us the work of
our hands….
O prosper the work of our
hands. Psalm 90: 17

Seamus Heaney died last week. He was one of the finest poets of our time, often called the greatest Irish poet since William Butler Yeats. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005 and his poetry is earthy and yet delicately eloquent and accessible.

In one of his best known and most loved poems, “Digging”, he remembers watching his father dig turf in the same way generations of Irishmen dug and preserved the fuel to warm their homes and cook their food. There was a proper technique for cutting turf and he watched as his father dug…

The coarse boot nestled on the
lug, the shaft
Against the inside knee
levered firmly….

By God, the old man could
handle a spade.
Just like his old man.

I grew up around working men, employees of the Pennsylvania Railroad mostly; engineers, firemen, brakemen, and the railroad shops which extended from one end of our city to the other dividing it in half. Those railroad shops, the largest in the world, we were told, were where the great steam locomotives, including the workhorse K-4, were built and repaired. Everyone worked hard, eight hours a day at least. It was strenuous, dirty and loud. Mothers were homemakers and worked from dawn until night cleaning the daily residue of cinders and coal dirt that descended everywhere, washing work clothes, ironing, cooking.

Heaney’s poem reminded me of them on this Labor Day weekend. They did it for us. Their work was for us. And they worked because meaningful work is part of what it means to be a man or woman regardless of what that work is. I’m grateful for my father and mother, their life-times of work, for my grandparents, my father-in-law and mother-in-law, and for all of them. They blessed us with their work. And the work we have to do blesses us.

Good and gracious God, we thank you for work to do and strength to do it. We thank you for those whose daily work fed and clothed us and sustained us. It gave them dignity and meaning even when they did not know it. We thank you for all who work today, who enable and enrich our lives in so many ways. Bless them all this day. And we thank you for giving us work to do.

Let the favor of The Lord our
God be upon us,
and prosper the work of
our hands,
O prosper the work of
our hands. Amen.


  1. The value of all kinds of work – not just overtly “religious” work – as an offering to God and a participation in the creation is one of the most enduring insights of the Reformation. Thanks, John, for this timely reminder!

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