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Blessings found in coworkers and schedules


If we’re honest, we’d admit that most of our spiritual disciplines come from the contemplative, even the monastic, traditions. They are designed to slow us down, get us away from the hustle and bustle of daily life, to immerse us in silence, solitude and simplicity, to use a few of the hot-button phrases.

There is another kind of spirituality, however, one that can be practiced in the workplace itself, on a regular basis, without disrupting the flow of work or disturbing or offending others, and based on the specific work that we are doing.

An e-mail discussion group that I have been conducting for four years has been grappling with the question of how to practice such a spirituality of work.

Dan Minarik, for example, a mechanical engineer in Illinois, offers these rules for the workplace: “Treat everyone with respect. We’re all members of the same human family of God’s children whether our job is cleaning the lavatories or making top-level decisions on the operations of the company. Greet everyone the same way, ignore no one, listen openly to ideas from everyone, give credit to those who contribute anything -- especially those lower on the company hierarchical ladder.

“Be honest and above board. Be aware of corporate politics, but don’t instigate it. Don’t steal from the company: pens, paper, padded expenses, personal Internet use, whatever. Don’t steal for the company, either: software, competitive secrets, whatever.

“Earn your pay. Avoid unnecessary socializing, scheduling personal events, long breaks, etc.”

Karen Ball, a marketing executive in California, tells the following story:

“I try to treat others in the way I want to be treated, but sometimes it’s not that easy. I have one man at work with whom I have never gotten along well. Mostly we avoid each other and are civil when we have to work together.

“He’s been out of the office for several weeks on a project, and this morning he walked into my office and said, ‘I think there was something I was supposed to do for you. Do you remember what it was?’ I had to laugh and say I needed a better clue than that. Both of us shrugged our shoulders and said, ‘Oh well.’ Then he left.

“I sat there for a moment completely surprised. Since neither of us could remember the request, it wasn’t something he probably needed to deal with. In the past he’s ignored a lot of my requests that he really did have to follow up on. But for some reason he came in and reached out today. We were both friendly to each other, more than just civil. And when he left I felt much better. In fact, I looked out my window and said to myself, ‘Thank you, God.’ It was a little blessing that I hadn’t even asked for. But I was there to receive it and to accept it as a blessing. For me, that was spirituality at work.”

Steve Scott, the religion editor for the St. Paul Pioneer Press in Minnesota, sees it this way: “Practicing the spirituality of work means purposefully observing disciplines for yourself that lead you to engage your work in a way that brings you closer to God and/or God closer to you.

“So if I fill my calendar with every appointment and commitment that comes my way and haphazardly attend to each one as I am logistically able, then I am performing a ‘work’ function but not necessarily practicing the spirituality of work. But to practice the latter, I might be intentional every Sunday night about looking ahead at my week, roughly planning how each day might help me fulfill the prime directives in my life.

“Then, I have a larger framework of priority that allows me to take each new assignment and evaluate it against my larger goals. How I then choose to meet the demands of my schedule becomes a spiritual practice. I am then connecting the smaller parts of my workweek to the larger spiritual whole.”

I believe we are at the beginning of the process of learning and describing to each other how we might practice the spirituality of work. How we will get there? By exercising gospel values every chance we get at work. I urge you to join in this effort.

Gregory Pierce is the author of Spirituality@Work: 10 Ways to Balance Your Life On-the-Job. NCR readers can join his free discussion group by sending him an e-mail at SpiritualityWork@aol.com

National Catholic Reporter, January 11, 2002