Most spiritual writers and Church leaders have, it seems to me,
overlooked ignored a vital aspect of the spiritual lives of the people: workplace spirituality.
One Bishop, St. Francis de Sales, got it right in 1608 when he wrote:
Almost all of us have hitherto treated of devotion had in view the instruction of persons wholly withdrawn form the world, or they have taught a kind of devotion that leads to this absolute retirement. My intention is to instruct those who live in towns, in families, or at court. By their condition they are obliged to lead, as to outward appearances, an ordinary life. Frequently, under an imaginary pretence of impossibility, they will not so much as think of an undertaking a devout life.
Four hundred years later, Catholic and Protestant leaders are still looking for a theology of work.
The topic of human labor “is rather foreign” to theologians, charges David Jensen in Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work (Westminster John Knox Press , 100 Witherspoon St., Louisville, KY 40202; $19.95). They assume that “what really matters for the life of faith is the time spent away from work: in church, in prayer, in contemplation.” In consequence too many Christians regard their time on the job as tangential to the claims of their faith. Jensen, a professor at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, uses Genesis, the Trinity and the liturgy to point toward themes in a theology of work.
Jensen repeatedly reminds us that while theologians undervalue work, many lay people—perhaps influenced by the Protestant ethic, which is not the same as Martin Luther and John Calvin’s theology—“tend to attribute too much value to our work.” That’s called workaholism and consumerism, and it is guaranteed to yield stress and disappointment.
When theologians and spiritual leaders rightly focus on this latter aspect of work they tend to ignore the positive values and opportunities for service that many of us find in the world of work.
Many Christians, mostly Protestant, are responding through the faith at work movement. Here is another extract from the April issue of Initiatives
The faith at work movement—which is also known as ministry in daily life, marketplace ministry, spirituality of work, and the like—is expanding in size and potential influence, documents David Miller in God At Work (Oxford University Press , 198 Madison Ave., New York, NY 10016; $29.95). Miller, director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture (409 Prospect St., New Haven, CT 06511; www.yale.edu/faith), knows of over 1,200 faith at work groups in the U.S.
Once again, this movement draws little attention from Church leaders:
The faith at work movement, Miller concludes, “has the potential” to give “new ethical shape” to society and to renew the church. Yet many Church employees and the theological academy seemingly ignore the movement. It gets far and away more attention in newspapers and business magazines than in religious publications. Only two Protestant denominations, according to Miller, “have shaped specific groups and parts of the faith at work movement.” One of those, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, cut back its financial support in 2004, leaving only the Mennonite Church.
As posted before church leaders are only following a corollary to Murphy’s law known as Miles’ Law: “Where you stand, depends on where you sit.” They sit in a chair requiring them to focus on building stronger churches. This drives their thinking – and leads them to overlook the need of parishioners for a spirituality that relates to daily life at work.
It is up to the rest of us to find and proclaim a theology and spirituality of work as best as we can – we can use some help from Francis de Sales.
Future postings will explore writings on the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales and work-related issues.
In January, I will be privileged to facilitate parish small group study of Gregory Pierce’s Spirituality@Work: Ten Ways to Balance Your Life on the Job. For my review go here.
P.S. I didn't realize that my summer break had gone on this long. It was a good summer, filled with a wedding and family visits. Glad to be back.