Let's create a spirituality of work that works.
FOR MOST PEOPLE, SPIRITUALITY MEANS ONE FORM OR another of getting away from the busy world--to pray, to meditate or reflect, to worship, to contemplate. But if spirituality cannot be developed in the midst of the primary, ordinary activities of normal, average people (on their jobs, with their families, in their community activities), then hasn't spirituality itself been appropriated by a special-interest group--the "You must get away from the world to find God" lobby, the spirituality-industrial complex, the "I'm holy and you're not" school of religion?
The rest of us are then relegated to a part-time spirituality, one snatched in the minutes and hours we can get away from our myriad responsibilities. We become amateurs in the spirituality game, relegated to standing on the outside of the spiritual life and looking in, justified for being envious of the monk on the mountaintop.
There is precious little material available on how to actually practice what Pope John Paul II has called "the spirituality of work." Why is this so? I think the answers are obvious. First, the contemplative tradition has won. It has convinced just about everyone that if you want to align yourself and your environment with the transcendental, the ultimate meaning of existence, the holy, the divine--in a word, with God--then you must get "away from" the world, at least for a time. If"silence, solitude, and simplicity" is the motto of traditional, contemplative spirituality, "noise, crowds, and complexity" must be the bywords of a spirituality of work.
Perhaps the reason a spirituality of work has not gained greater credence and adherence is that, unlike with many other spiritualities, its practitioners have not developed a series of disciplines that other people can follow to make such a spirituality a reality in their daily lives.
The disciplines of the spirituality of work must, by definition, be different from those of contemplative spirituality. What they would share, of course, is the fact that they are both a set of disciplines. That is, they are practices that can be performed on a regular basis to produce expected results. Thus, with the classical spiritual disciplines, someone might meditate for half an hour each morning expecting to become calm and focused. Another might read a chapter of the Bible each day or say the same prayer morning, noon, and night for the purpose of reminding himself or herself of spiritual matters.
THE DISCIPLINES OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF WORK WOULD HAVE to be like these traditional disciplines yet be designed for today's busy workplace. And they must be new disciplines, not mere adaptations of contemplative disciplines. They would be practices that could be done in the workplace, without disrupting the flow of one's work or that of others. Here are a few possible "disciplines of a spirituality of work":
1. The discipline of "sacred objects." One discipline that is used by some is to surround themselves with "sacred objects" in the workplace. These can be anything from traditional religious art to photos of family and friends to completely secular items that carry for a person a very deep and spiritual meaning. A few people even go so far as to refer to their collection of these objects as an "altar," but most are content merely to have them around, without necessarily assigning religious words or titles to them. The purpose of this discipline is to have these objects break through the daily routines of the workplace and remind us of the ultimate meaning--and holiness--of the work we are doing.
2. The discipline of"living with imperfection." This discipline involves recognizing on a regular basis that we are human and will make mistakes. How does living with our imperfection get us in touch with God? First, it reminds us of our human frailty and disabuses us of any idea that we can bring about God's plan for the world on our own, without divine help. Second, it gives us perspective in our work, a realization that work is not the only important
thing in life. We perform this discipline by building into our workdays concrete reminders--and acceptance--of the fact that we are not perfect.
3. The discipline of "assuring quality." Like most things in the spiritual life, of course, there is a yang to the yin of living with our imperfection. While it is well and good--spiritual even--to live with our imperfection, we can never use that as an excuse for doing less than our best work. A contradiction? Yes, but not entirely. Our best work, for the most part, will be imperfect. Yet, if it is to be worthy of feeding our spiritual lives, it still must be the best quality of which we are capable. How can we maintain that our work has transcendent importance and then not try to make it the best work possible? This discipline entails setting and following guidelines and procedures that ensure the quality of our work.
4. The discipline of "giving thanks and congratulations." In many ways, this discipline is already well-practiced in most workplaces. There are many occasions when people's work is recognized, appreciated, and congratulated. Performance-review time, birthdays, and special days such as Sec, retaries Day, Bosses Day, and others are all times when people are singled out. Then there are the big occasions: 25th and 50th job anniversaries, promotions, and--unfortunately, in a way--retirements, transfers, and departures for other jobs. Certainly these efforts should be honored and built upon. But the spirituality of work also needs a more mundane discipline, one that reminds the practitioner to thank people--both others and self--regularly and often for their work.
5. The discipline of "deciding what is enough--and sticking to it." Deciding what is "enough" in the workplace and then sticking to it is a very underrated virtue. How much of the pressure, the busyness, the competition, the unhappiness, the inability to see God in our work comes from our failure to practice this discipline? It seems that in the workplace enough is never enough. Whether it is time, money, energy, or attention, we do not have the ability to say no. That is where this discipline of the spirituality of work comes in. We must build into our workdays ways of reminding ourselves of what is enough--and then sticking to that. Remember, God is always "enough."
THERE ARE MANY OTHER SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINES THAT ARE possible in the workplace that would not take away from--and, in fact, would enhance--our work. Here are a few more: the discipline of "dealing with others as you would have them deal with you"; the discipline of "balancing our work, personal, family, community, and church responsibilities"; the discipline of "working to make the system work"; the discipline of "engaging in personal and professional development."
These and other disciplines of a spirituality of work can form the basis for a new kind of spirituality that could be practiced by anyone in the workplace--even the busiest or the least pious among us. If these disciplines were practiced regularly, and by large numbers of us Christians, they would have a real impact on transforming the workplace into something much closer to God's plan for the world.
The true disciplines of a spirituality of work can only be discovered by people living them out. Many people are trying to develop a spirituality of work in their own lives. It is time for us to begin sharing our experiences.
By GREGORY F. AUGUSTINE PIERCE, past president of the National Center for the Laity and a member of Business Executives for Economic Justice. He is copublisher of ACTA Publications in Chicago.
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|Author:||PIERCE, GREGORY F. AUGUSTINE|
|Date:||Sep 1, 1999|
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