Finding Livelihood

Finding Livelihood: A Progress of Work and Leisure
by Nancy J. Nordenson
Oro Valley, AZ: Kalos Press, 2015
258 pages
Reviewed by Greg Richardson

Many of us are struggling with questions of livelihood, and ask, What are we called to do? Where is the place where our passion meets the world’s need? Can we both make a living and make a meaningful difference? Is it possible for us to do good and do well?

For more and more of us, and our spiritual directees, work is where we put our spiritual life into practice. We may face expectations of availability around the clock. We may feel pressure to perform more and more tasks ever more effortlessly. Our own needs for balance and rest may come into conflict with other people’s demand for our services.

Finding Livelihood is an insightful, personal tool for our work with people on a spiritual and occupational journey. Nancy Nordenson is a medical and creative writer. She writes with clarity and precision about the spiritual challenges, lessons, and rewards of work. Organized as a series of reflections about making a living and making a life, each section of the book explores the depths of a different aspect of livelihood and work. Drawn from her own life and experience, each is a valuable place to begin rewarding reflection.

Nordenson’s story includes her first paying job, singing Handel’s Messiah culminating in the Hallelujah chorus, encounters with her fellow passengers on airplane trips, the surgeries her son required after  he fell from scaffolding at a summer job, and watching the unpacking of Russian icons at a museum during her lunch hour, among other stories. Finding Livelihood explores questions about why some of us have such challenges finding our own calling, and how we allow expectations to create some of our difficulties. It is a valuable resource for spiritual directors working with spiritual directees who seek discernment and guidance related to work and career.

While Nordenson writes from a clearly Christian perspective, she raises universal questions and shares reflections which are not exclusive to Christianity. My own personal favorite chapter is titled “Centripetal Centrifugal Counterpoise,” and is about the ways work and career are reflected in the spiritual practice of walking a labyrinth. For example, “A labyrinth’s exit and entrance are one and the same, depending on what you do with it. You can call it quits or pivot and start again inward toward the center” (189). Does knowing our true selves allow us to find the work we love, or do we work our way toward knowing ourselves?

Finding Livelihood is not a how-to book filled with checklists and targeted goals. It is deeper and more rewarding than that, reflecting on deep truth. Spiritual guides will find this a useful resource, particularly while accompanying spiritual directees who desire to integrate the daily place where love and labor meet.

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director and leadership coach in Pasadena, California, USA. He is also a lay oblate with New Camaldoli Monastery near Big Sur, California. His e-mail address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.