A famous line from the Jewish text, Chapters of Our Fathers, speaks to the spiritual necessity of interminable effort: We do not need to finish the work, but neither are we free to abandon it.

“The work” is both the effort, and the object of the effort. It’s the energy we put into manifesting any complex, intangible good–justice, peace, love, art–and it’s the intangible good, too. Justice, peace, love, and art are ongoing processes requiring endless renewal.

“The work” is necessary, and it’s also impossible. Each individual is compelled, in some way, to return to it, again and again, somehow in pursuit not of perfection but of progress.

We can engage with this work in many ways, by attempting it, undertaking it, toiling at it, grinding away at it, trudging toward it, struggling through it, forcing it. 

Or we can attend to it. We can stretch toward the work, direct our mind or observant faculties to it, listen to it work, apply ourselves to it, watch over it, minister to it, follow it, frequent it, wait for it, wait upon it, await it, expect it.

Attend is the operative word. As a transitive and an intransitive verb–as both an action complete unto itself and an action that must be directed toward something–it reminds us that we need not complete the work. We cannot complete the work. But we can attend to it.