Friday, March 6, 2015

The Spirituality of Work

Since the fall of Adam and Eve, work has gotten a bad rap.  Work was an essential dimension of God’s plan prior to the fall.  God told Adam that one of his “jobs” was to tend the garden.  And God, of course, tasked Adam to name all the animals of creation.  But, somehow, it’s the post-fall scripture we remember best, “By the sweat of your brow you shall toil”.  The industrial revolution, and more recently a materialistic culture that rather schizophrenically prizes leisure and hard work at the same time, has helped to drive the spiritual dimension of work from our daily lives.

Spirituality, unfortunately, has often become perceived as belonging to those who have quiet minds and bodies, and substantial amounts of time to pray, contemplate God, go on retreat, etc.  Those of us with kids, sports, careers, and active lifestyles seem somehow left out of the opportunity to experience the intimate communion with God experienced by the great saints, contemplatives and mystics.  We are left to chew on the crumbs of 5 minutes of quiet time between when we lay down and when we fall asleep.

Those of us who love and find joy in activity and work, often find a certain dryness and restlessness in quiet and inactivity.  This of course, is good for us, to wrestle and quiet our hearts before God on occasion.  But, it is not the only way to find intimacy and communion with God.  Since work belonged to the order of original creation when Adam “walked with God”, shouldn’t we be able to find intimacy with God in our work?

Not too long ago, I stumbled across the few writings of Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection (1614-1691).   Brother Lawrence did not practice any particular spirituality, or devotion, except by obedience to his superiors.  He, instead, focused completely on “Practicing the Presence of God” in every circumstance of his life.  As I read his writings, it resonated and explained the joy that I often experience in the hustle and bustle of the workday.  In a series of interviews known as the Conversations, a biographer wrote:
“That the most excellent method he had found of going to GOD, was that of doing our common business without any view of pleasing men, and (as far as we are capable) purely for the love of GOD.
That it was a great delusion to think that the times of prayer ought to differ from other times.  That we are as strictly obliged to adhere to GOD by actin in time of action, as by prayer in its season.”

“That he had so often experienced the ready succours of Divine Grace upon all occasions… when he had business to do… he found in GOD, as in a clear mirror, all that was fit for him to do.”

“That he was more united to GOD in his outward employments, than when he left them for devotion in retirement.”

In reading Brother Lawrence, it is clear that he found the meaning to St. Paul’s admonition to “pray unceasingly”.  His words have given me a tool to use in my work, where it can be as easy to operate “in” the presence of God as “out”.  I can check my heart with a couple easy questions.  “Am I pleasing God or pleasing Man?”  “Am I united to God in this moment, in this activity?”  “Does this please Him, no matter how trivial or mundane?”

My work has found a deeper meaning, and a certain sense of justification, that God desires to be with me in the midst of my activity, not waiting for me to finish.  I will leave with one sweet final quote from Brother Lawrence, a prayer for spirituality of work…

“O my GOD, since Thou are with me, and I must now, in obedience to Thy commands, apply my mind to these outward things, I beseech Thee to grant me the grace to continue in Thy Presence; and to this end do Thou prosper me to Thy assistance, receive all my works, and possess all my affections.”

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