In physics, the standard international unit of energy [Greek en (in) + ergon (work) = energeia] is the joule (J), this being the work done when a force of one newton travels through a distance of one meter. The rate of energy conversion is called ‘power‘.
One of the scientific definitions of energy is “the capacity to do work.” So any transformation of energy is, in a very real sense, work.
This scientific understanding of energy has profound implications for current definitions and popular opinions about the so-called and often stigmatized “unemployed” and “underemployed.” In fact, every living creature on Earth works by virtue of its existence. The ancient Greek pre-Socratic thinker, Heraclitus, put it this way:
Even sleepers and dreamers are workers and collaborators in what goes on in the universe.
In addition, in different world religions meditation and contemplation are understood as the most demanding forms of bodily and spiritual work that a human being can do. So in Catholicism, individuals engaged in a life of contemplative prayer are said to cooperate with the “work of salvation.”
However, Christian fundamentalists, most Protestants and many Catholics just don’t get this. They seem to operate on a more active, materialistic level than the deep contemplative. So while a contemplative can have a pretty good idea of the more socially oriented work that the visibly active Christian does, the latter doesn’t understanding nor appreciate the work that a contemplative does. To make matters worse, contemplatives are usually subject to scorn, ridicule and other forms of psycho-spiritual abuse. As difficult as this is for the contemplative, they also know that overcoming these abuses in a loving way is part of the work that they’re called to do.¹
¹ One of the best examples of this dynamic is found throughout St. Faustina Kowalska’s Divine Mercy Diary. Here the saint outlines how even her Catholic superiors, who should have known better, treated her very poorly and harshly, causing her much pain. And the best example of this kind of unselfish love is arguably found in Jesus’ words while hanging on the cross, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).