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The divine milieu not just the church

NCR’s Feb. 2 cover story, “Spirituality for the piety-impaired,” featured Greg Pierce, author of Spirituality@Work: Ten Ways to Balance Your Life On-the-Job. Readers were invited to share their thoughts about Pierce’s approach to spirituality in the secular workplace. What follows are some of the numerous responses both Pierce and NCR received:

Janet N. Currie
Sales associate,
Macy’s Department Store
San Francisco

I have floundered for most of my life (I’m 62) trying to balance spirituality with secular work. I know for certain that God has always wanted me to be a layperson living and working “in the world.” But, as you say, most of the books one reads speak only of attaining holiness by withdrawing from the world.

The vast majority of people are in the world. That’s God’s will for them. God wants all persons to be holy, so there must be some way of attaining it in secular life.

I was pleased to read about your views of honesty in the workplace and how you spiritualize your everyday activities. This is what I’ve done, too.

I sell women’s coats at Macy’s in San Francisco and have been there for more than 40 years. We work on commission, so it is very important to be honest in not taking another’s sale, for that would be stealing from them. I’ve felt that no matter how desperate I was for money -- and it’s been tough many times, since I’m a single mom -- I have to be honest and not steal another’s sale, easy though it would be. Also I have thought that my job is a great opportunity to serve God by being kind, helpful and pleasant to my customers, and that I’m serving him by satisfying the needs of my customers.

Frank Andrews
Retired captain, U.S. Navy
Retired professor emeritus of engineering,
Catholic University of America
Annapolis, Md.

I am far from anti-clergy. Indeed my own son is a Redemptorist in Puerto Rico. But I think the average homilist is simply inexperienced at what is going on in our amazing and productive and evolving industrial and research institutions throughout America, and the world, too. Think of quantum mechanics, relativity, chaos theory, microbiology, medicine, genetic understanding, the world of outer space, the Internet, historical and literary study of scripture and so many more ideas and actions. And jobs, jobs, jobs.

Is this human activity alone or is it humankind using the mind given to us by the Almighty?

In Teilhard’s Phenomenon of Man, he says that there is no question that modern society is becoming more secularized, but that the solution is not to condemn this out of hand. Instead a new Christology must be found that understands the “God of the Ahead” as well as the “God Above.”

We humans in the work place are created co-creators with God as the Creator. How else can we explain the amazing evolutionary changes taking place now and in the not so distant past?

Fr. Tom Zelinski, OFM Cap
Saginaw, Mich.

I like Greg Pierce’s “piety-impaired” approach to spirituality. There are times when I don’t feel very pious either, and I believe that spirituality ought to weave in and out of everything else we do, or it is not very authentic.

I work in a retreat center. When people come here, I hope it is not to escape the rest of their lives. Rather, I hope that they come to get a different perspective on life so that they can live their spirituality on the job and in their families.

We are all flawed human beings, and perhaps we ought to drop the word perfection from our religious language. God and grace are to be found in the midst of all our stumbling around in the workplace or anywhere we may happen to be. Long live the piety-impaired!

Shirley Koeppel
Director of religious education,
St. Theresa’s Catholic Church
West Des Moines, Iowa

Just read the NCR article and loved it! It certainly echoes what I’m hearing from parents. How do I help them carve out the sacred that they desire while attending to their brood? Thanks for putting into practice that which many of us have felt but have been unable to name. God does seem to know that we can’t do this alone.

Donna M. Munroe
Catholic school secretary,
St. Mary Magdalene
Holly Springs, N.C.

I work in a Catholic school and still find it hard to see or experience spirituality in the work place. The “human condition” does not always bring out the Christ-likeness found in each of us. Please let your readers know that the “place” they work does not matter. It is more the people in that place that make or break your day.

I know the people here are dedicated to the gospel, but we all have an agenda. What I want or my co-worker wants or sees as important may not be the same. In that case the gospel can be made a tool of hurt instead of healing.

Mary Jane Oakland
Coordinator of dietetic programs,
Iowa State University
Ames, Iowa

I am an Episcopal deacon, and on the faculty at Iowa State University. Your concerns and wisdom about workplace/family spirituality are right where we need to be talking to folks.

In a state university, I have always tried to be pretty careful with symbols in the office -- but also knowing that I need visual reminders and calls to prayer in the midst of this job (sometimes joy, sometimes crucible). I have a photograph I call my Sacred Heart picture. Actually it is one red leaf in the middle of several green leaves in sort of a fuzzy woods scene.

Jim Rademaker
Director, Secretariat for Social Justice,
Grand Rapids diocese
Kentwood, Mich.

I certainly fall into the piety-impaired group. Over the years, I have come to realize that I cannot compartmentalize my spiritual, family and work lives. But honestly, I am still a “work in process” and every day am learning new things about God’s wonderful creation.

Sr. Mary George O’Reilly, SHCJ
Executive assistant to the president,
Rosemont College
Rosemont, Penn.

I found your search for a spirituality that would permeate your world of work so comparable to my own ongoing search as I continue in ministry at our college, where I have served for some 40-plus years. Your sampling of the practices you recommend just reinforced my own. I wonder if you are familiar with Teilhard de Chardin’s treatment of work titled “the sanctification of human endeavor” in The Divine Milieu. It has so many apt quotations that are easy to recall in the midst of one’s work: “The closeness of our union with him is in fact determined by the exact fulfillment of the least of our tasks,” and “There is a sense in which he is at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle ... of my heart and of my thought,” and “Never, at any time ... consent to do anything without first of all realizing its significance and constructive value in Christo Jesu, and pursuing it with all your might.”

Fr. Charles Bolser, CSV
Maternity B.V.M. Church
Bourbonnais, Ill.

Although I am not in the strict sense among the “laity,” I am, however, interested in developing a sense of spirituality for myself in my workplace (the pastor of a 1,500-family parish) and the possibility of inviting interested parishioners to walk with us on this most interesting journey.

I am most interested in refocusing our energies to the adult church, and while not neglecting the church of the youth, assisting all of us elders in sharing both our common and our unique stories.

I like your story as I see it so far. I also like your sense of humor, a trait most definitely lacking in most spiritual and theological tomes. They are so deadly serious that they deaden the very spirituality that they are intending to elevate.

Mother Gail Fitzpatrick, OCSO
Our Lady of the Mississippi Abbey
Dubuque, Iowa

I’m sure the article will prove to be very helpful for many people who struggle with the same questions and challenges you do. Even we in the “cloister” struggle, believe me!

Connie May
Toddville, Iowa

I am an associate member of the local Trappist monasteries. All of the associates realize that bringing God into our daily lives is a pressing need. The Trappist charism of the balance of prayer, study and work is a model we are attracted to. In turn the Trappist communities are looking to us to help them as they lift the world in prayer as well.

The secret we both look for is the healthy balance of these three human activities. Like a fan designed to have three blades will thrash itself to pieces if one blade is missing or out of balance, we see that our lives can get out of balance as well. We resist the notion that coming away from “the world” is the answer. Rather, we are striving to make God so present in our consciousness that this consciousness permeates our homes, workplaces and worship places.

Roberta J. Cote
Wife, mother, grandmother,
spiritual director,
Christ the King Parish
South Kingstown, R.I.

What a terrific article. As I read it, I couldn’t help thinking of the phrase, “quality of presence.” I know sometimes I’m not present to the task at hand because my mind is already scurrying on to the next project. Sometimes I’m not really listening to the person I’m with because my mind is either trying to fix their problem or I’m thinking of how to respond. Spirituality of work is very much tied into the quality of my presence -- to others, to the task at hand, to myself, to God.

Sue Fitzgerald
Director of religious education,
St. Stephen the Martyr Catholic Church
Omaha, Neb.

Five years ago, I was trying to incorporate the ordinariness of my life with what I thought spirituality should be. There wasn’t much out there in terms of books, articles or websites on this subject that I could find. I felt lost. I felt called to do more. But, in my mind, the “more” had to be church-related in order for it to count as “real” spirituality.

I was lucky enough to land a job in my home parish as a director of religious education. At the time, I thought that this experience would deepen my prayer life, widen my religious horizons and bring me peace. Ha! I was naive. The hours are long. The pressures are relentless. Weeks and months go by without a “thank-you” or “good job” from anyone. But, I wouldn’t be anywhere else. After five years, I truly think that this is my vocation. I love being in relationship with the families and the parish staff. I deeply enjoy giving people opportunities to find God. Now I know that it is still up to me to deepen my own prayer life, widen my religious horizons. And some days, I do find peace. Other days, I find struggle. Which is how it should be.

Alice Camille
Berkeley, Calif.

I admire the thoughtfulness and candor with which you approach “spirituality,” a word I personally hate. I expect I’m piety-impaired as well. Anything that smacks of otherworldliness holds little credibility with me.

I just watched “Oh God!” again last night with George Burns and John Denver. I think the writer of that script would have been in perfect agreement with your demystified approach of how to connect with God.

Katie Todora
Parish social ministry associate,
Baton Rouge diocese
Baton Rouge, La.

I look back on my own enticement to contemplative life and the ensuing struggle to blend an “away from the world” spirituality with my responsibilities as a wife and mother at home and at work. I felt diminished somehow because I honestly could not practice the spirituality of John of the Cross and Teresa of Avila, or commit to the faithful reading of the liturgy of the hours.

However, I experienced “God” today, in the person of a shabby, old black man with kind eyes, who was selling prayers on the parking lot at Walgreens (for $2). His primitive pen and ink drawing is beautiful. The card simply said, “I Love You,” along with a reflection on an unnumbered psalm. In a few minutes at lunch on a busy day, I had an authentic “contemplative” experience -- because I felt loved, not by the old man, but by the author of all beauty -- who, perhaps, chose this way to tell me so.

Frank Staropoli
Staropoli Consulting, Inc.
Rochester, N.Y.

For many years I was highly involved with the church, doing workshops on lay spirituality. Though I’m still connected, I rarely get involved now.

I’m mainly focused now on living my spirituality through my family and my work. I coach executives -- business leaders. I’m often overwhelmed by the depth of spiritual struggle, holiness, joy and pain I see there. Of course, most of them have no clue that their work is deeply spiritual. They don’t give themselves credit for it, because they were never taught to do so, never given permission. So I help them claim their already-existing spiritual richness and grapple with their spiritual challenges.

Sr. Marilyn Gottemoeller, RSM
Pastoral administrator,
Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Parish
Martin, Ohio

Yesterday I was having a very down day as pastoral administrator of my parish here in Ohio and then I read your article in NCR, realized I was on the right track and felt reaffirmed. I loved the line about giving up your spiritual director! (Luckily, I have one who supports me, but I think you are right on refocusing how and where God is in our lives.)

I still have some people who believe God is a taskmaster and that suffering and death are our lot in life. One even has argued that Good Friday is the most important day of the church year!

God knows we are imperfect but intensely loves us as we are -- even as he loves us into being even better. If we were all perfect before we went to God, or could do it on our own, we wouldn’t need a savior.

Jerry Kearney
Red River Behavioral Health Services
Wichita Falls, Texas

For such a long time I have found it absurd and eminently contradictory that we have had to look to cultivating a genuine spirituality by somehow going outside ourselves, by somehow transcending the boundaries of our circumstances and finding an intimate relationship with the Beloved “beyond” the parameters of time, space and situation within which we find ourselves. I think we would be foolish to deny the value of regular and periodic (and indeed daily) “retreat” from the frenetic pace of the day-to-day world as an important time to spend selfishly with the Beloved. On the other hand it is disingenuous to assert that the Beloved is not equally (and sometimes even more realistically) encountered and ecstatically engaged in the hectic course of daily commerce and human interaction.

I found your approach all the more piercing and relevant while reading Luke Timothy Johnson’s article in the Jan. 26 edition of Commonweal, titled “A Disembodied ‘Theology of the Body’: John Paul II on Love, Sex and Pleasure.” Mr. Johnson makes it clear that John Paul’s approach to human sexuality demands that we extract ourselves from the circumstances of our relationships in order to find genuine relationship with the Beloved. Rubbish! If God is not encountered and engaged in the small and large events of human life, then our understanding of the incarnation is negated. Our belief in incarnation, resurrection, salvation and forgiveness (the cornerstones of our creed) demand that we open our eyes, our hearts, our sensitivities and, hence, the development of our spirituality, to the everyday encounters of our daily efforts (and failures) to build the Kingdom.

It is in the everyday that God is found, and it is upon and within (and not without!) that everyday, mundane, human stuff that our relationship with God is grounded and grows. To speak otherwise is to contradict the human experience and to deny any belief that “the Word became flesh and dwells among us.”

National Catholic Reporter, March 16, 2001