A central tenet of the spirit and work movement is that there ought to be no split among what we do for a living, how we handle our money, and what we do for God. To be sure, the worlds of commerce or farming may be noisier and messier than what happens in our quieter, more beautiful temples or mosques or churches. Further, the language we use in these various places and the things we do there may vary drastically.
Yet at the heart of all faiths are calls to integrity, to compassion and service, to doing nothing today that harms our relationship with the eternal. When we follow these calls in the workplace, many are discovering, life blossoms. Our spiritual life becomes more grounded and rich. Work is more satisfying, more beneficial to others. We have more time for that which we are put on earth to do, including the many pleasures and wonders of earthly, human life.
Sacred Stories Can Provide Powerful Guidance for Everyday Work and Money Challenges
The great cathedrals of Europe were not built with the intent of helping workers bring more spirit to work. indeed, if work was discussed then in sermons at all, it was more often considered in the context of the ancient story about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. Thus, cathedrals were huge, lofty places, designed to draw attention from the cares and evils of this world, to the world beyond.
And yet, as a popular cathedral building story illustrates, how one approaches work can profoundly affect one’s spiritual life and vice versa.
“What are you doing?” a visitor asked a grumpy man who was helping build one of those medieval cathedrals. It was in the early stages of cathedral building, a good hundred years from the cathedral’s completion.
“I’m hauling stones from one place to another,” was the response.
“What are you doing?” the visitor asked another worker, less grumpy, but obviously exhausted.
“I’m working for my living by hauling these stones from one place to another,” was the response.
“What are you doing?” asked the visitor of a man who hauled rocks with a blissful smile on his face.
“I’m building a cathedral!” said the man.
Much as I love the positive implications of the person who can envision a future and see himself part of it, I’d like to add a fourth worker. This is the man or woman who combines all three answers, and in the process creates something richer.
Through Work and Money Challenges, We Can Build Our Relationship with the Sacred
We’re human, and sometimes we’re grumpy. Many times we just have to do tasks whether we like to do them or not. Like filing, or having a root canal, or getting the tax papers in order. The spiritual choice is to accept the reality that some things just need to be done, and they apply to us as well as others, because we’re not too good or special to have to do them.
However spiritual we may be, we need to earn our livings. The spiritual choice is to do this without shame but with honesty, with respect, and as purposefully and joyously as possible. If the way we earn our living is by hauling stones, we can always choose to do it with a cheerful heart and with respect for other workers and the earth from which the stones come. If the heavy things that come with our work are more about grumpy bosses or co-workers than physical weights, then our work includes dealing gracefully with them (and ourselves) as well.
Whatever we are doing now is connected to something much larger and more eternal than ourselves. Seeing possibilities, being the ordinary visionaries we were born to be, helps us keep going towards a richer future, however full today is of hard knocks and stumbling blocks. Serving a greater master than just our earthly boss takes us deeply into the realm of purpose and mission — the most fulfilling area of work.
Putting it all together, working in all these levels leads us into a deeply layered world where paradoxes unite, and ordinary tasks shimmer with inordinate delight. We’re not escapist “bliss bunnies,” but enlightened servant leaders. As we work out mundane challenges, we become more grounded in who we really are and in the wonder of all the beauty around us.
What cathedrals are you helping to build?
How can you bring more joy and purpose to any of your tasks — including the tasks of making a living.
As always, many blessings,
Pat McHenry Sullivan