In his wonderful book, “spirituality @ work,” author Gregory Pierce points out that work can be a source of spiritual insight, comfort, challenge, and growth; a place where the divine reality can be encountered in a tangible way.
When I started ‘Spirituality at Work ministry’ in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, in 2001, Mr. Pierce’s book was like a ‘bible’ to me. The subtitle to the book is: “10 ways to balance your life on the job.” I have enjoyed reading his reflections numerous times including now as I start the third ‘incarnation’ of this ministry. The second was in Las Vegas, the third in Spokane, Washington.
There is a creative energy in work that is somehow tied to God’s creative energy. While I think we can all agree on that notion, we are used to doing so unencumbered by a coronavirus. We went to work, occupied our favorite space, and visited with colleagues with no health concern except if someone had foolishly arrived with the common flu. The pandemic has turned these ordinary activities upside down. Most of us in the U.S. are now working from home.
How discover the presence of God at work in these times? And what are the blessings as well as the challenges as we spend hours on Zoom meetings; tend to the educational needs of our children, for those of you who are parents with children at home; and be sensitive to the concerns of your partner if there is one with you?
I asked Vivek, a friend of mine who is a university professor, husband, and father of two young daughters for his thoughts on these questions. Here is his response.
“Some of the many things that staying at home has made me realize are: how quickly my two daughters are growing up and with the keen curiosity about the world that I wish I possessed. Their solutions to world problems are simple, not weighed down by politics. Secondly, I am enjoying morning walks with my wife, a practice that we started because of the virus. Thirdly, I have developed a greater appreciation of nature (he lives outside the city) and the natural beauty surrounding where we live; something I took for granted in the hustle-bustle of university life.”
Reflecting on the spiritual realm, award winning writer Eugene Kennedy pointed out that genuine spirituality makes demands on us, challenges us to overcome selfishness, to love from the depths of ourselves. Certainly this is true for those who have been working from home since the middle of March. Even those of us living in a religious community can have our patience with one another stretched. Living the Golden Rule takes on new meaning when one lives with elderly Jesuits who are especially vulnerable to getting the virus.
The Golden Rule and Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as we love our self finds new expressions due to COVID – 19: practicing social distancing and wearing masks when in public settings; using sanitizers and frequent washing of our hands especially if one is able to work at his or her office; and so forth. It takes not only selflessness but a certain magnanimity. The English word comes from the Latin magna anima or “great soul.” It is more than being generous to others; it is a willingness to endure the sufferings and irritations of life patiently with a genuine concern for the welfare of others.
Someone of “great soul,” Becky (also a professor) who with her husband has her hands full with two young boys and the necessity of home schooling them due to the virus shares that she is so grateful to the school where the boys attended until early March for helping them to learn at home. She and her husband enjoy a date night together every Friday on Zoom while the boys love Friday night PBS specials. “Traditions keep us sane,” she says. Added to this: Becky made a five-day Ignatian-style spiritual retreat, via Face Time, in early June.
Working from home can be both a blessing and a challenge so shares another friend of mine who is also a university professor. Paul lives with his wife and their dog. They have three adult children and five grandchildren, all-living within a couple of miles of each other. He writes:
“While working from home is not new to me, I now find it both liberating and isolating at the same time. I have the time and the freedom to organize my schedule and work at my own pace without the frequent meetings and interruptions that often occur at the office. On the other hand, I miss those in-person encounters and hallway conversations and even (some) meetings. Surprising to me, I look forward to Zoom meetings and conversations. In the virtual environment, I see the faces of students, colleagues and friends in a different way. I can focus on the person speaking and what they are saying more carefully. I am able to appreciate the uniqueness and gifts of each more fully. These are comforting and enriching encounters.”
Seeking for God in the ordinary activities of life was a prayer practice that St. Ignatius of Loyola frequently utilized; as ‘ordinary’ as preparing a meal, playing with one’s children or grandchildren, working in one’s garden, or washing one’s car to name a few. This is a prayer method ideally suited for those who are working from home.
If you would like to share your own experience of working from home - the blessings and the challenges - please send them to me and in the next issue of this newsletter I will share them.
Fr. Max Oliva, S.J. firstname.lastname@example.org