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119 Chapter eight Niches for Spirituality Spirituality in the Workplace Work in Western Religion In this chapter, we examine the meanings and roles of spirituality in the workplace. That phrase, along with spirituality in business, might have seemed an oxymoron a generation ago. While illness, suffering, and death as universal human experiences do not seem foreign to whatever sense of the spiritual we hold, offices and boardrooms and business establishments do not enjoy this intuitive connection. Yet today, the idea flourishes, and experts, consultants, and inspirational speakers advocate the introduction of spirituality into places where Principe could never have imagined it. The contemporary concept of spirituality is flexible enough to make such a location at least plausible. The aim of workplace spirituality, as we shall see, is to stretch and relocate human core meanings and yearnings to include the world of work, surely a central area of our lives. Here, too, spirituality is proposed as the solution to problems of meaning and human fulfillment for contemporary persons. In this workplace context, however, the issues are substantially different from those posed by the hospital environment for patients. Therefore, the nuances of spirituality’s meanings and functions will also be different . Yet, once again, the concept introduced as a solution cannot do justice to the many complex issues it is intended to solve. We start from what seems obvious to many of us. As with health care, there is a real discrepancy between a major institution and the human meanings of those who experience it from within. The vast majority of adult Americans spend much more time at work than we do 120 The Ecology of Spirituality in the hospital. Even hospital staff are at work, not experiencing a health crisis. If there is one area of life that cries out for some connection to ultimate concerns, it must be the workplace. We are not speaking of traditional callings, professions such as doctor or scholar, which were vocations long before they became careers. Those are not the focus of the workplace spirituality movement. We speak here of jobs, especially of jobs in medium-sized and large-scale bureaucratic businesses or service organizations. People want to know how their time spent in the office, at their job, connects with who they really are and what they value. Why, at the end of my life, am I so unlikely to say, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office”? We seek a better relation between contemporary work and human meanings, the human core self. While workplace spirituality may not have a solution to this question, the problem itself is a major one. To learn how we arrived at this dilemma, we need an historical perspective , for the history of religion and work is quite complex, to put it mildly. For the vast majority of human beings down until the twentieth century’s end, work meant farming, and the simple answer to the question “Why do we work?” was “Because we need to eat.” Farming, the most basic occupation since the agricultural revolution of about eight thousand years ago, has simply been there as the work people needed to do. However, the task of making things grow has been made ultimately meaningful by peoples everywhere who linked the fertility of fields and gardens with the fertility of the gods and human beings. Rites that promoted increase and abundance, fertility as a sign of cosmic life, included sexual acts performed in the fields. What humans did mirrored what the universe of the gods and goddesses of the crops did. In older English usage, the farmer fucked his fields meant that he ploughed and tended them, to make things grow. The people of the Hebrew Bible were also pastoralists, herders of animals. Here, too, fertility and increase were not just good economically and practically; they were signs of God’s blessing. Large human families and ever-larger herds of sheep went together in the stories of the patriarchs as specially blessed by God. The work put into pastoralism could be used analogically to express God’s care for his people, as in “the Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And yet, in the Bible there is another strand of thought about work: it is toil, bitter and hard. In the story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden, work is punishment . Everything humans need will no longer be given freely, but it must be toiled for “by the sweat of...


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