We’d expect that some workers in some jobs experience God’s presence on a regular basis. You’d hope, for example, that your pastor is aware of God’s presence while writing a sermon. And you’d expect that a hospital chaplain pays attention to the Lord in his or her workplace.
But what about the rest of us? What about those of us who have so-called “ordinary” jobs, like bankers and beauticians, mothers and managers, technologists and teachers? Should such “ordinary” workers expect to experience God in their work?
It’s been common in both secular and Christian culture to answer these questions in the negative. Oh, to be sure, “secular” workers might have some fleeting moments of divine awareness, but for the most part God seems to be absent from their work. Matters of faith belong in one’s personal life, in private devotions, family gatherings, and church, not in the workplace.
But, increasingly, people of faith are not satisfied with this answer. They long for more integration in their lives and in their work. They want to know if their work matters to God and if God matters to their work. They would like to experience God’s presence, not just in special moments, but in daily routines.
In fact, the idea that God is present in the midst of “secular” work is not a new one. It goes way back in Christian thinking and experience. Perhaps the most notable example of this comes from the seventeenth-century, from the life of Brother Lawrence. He was a monk who spent most of his life in a monastic community in France. His job in the monastery was to work in the kitchen. There, doing repetitive, demanding, and ordinary work, work that he did not particularly like, Lawrence discovered how to be aware of and enjoy God’s continual presence. After Lawrence’s death in 1691, the director of his community, Father Joseph de Beaufort, collected notes of his conversations with Lawrence as well as fifteen letters Lawrence had written. This collection was published with the title The Practice of the Presence of God, a phrase Lawrence had often used. De Beautfort’s effort has become one of the most influential of Christian classics, having been read by millions and millions of people.
If you have not read this little book, I would encourage you to do so. Since the book is in the public domain, you can find a copy online here. Or you can purchase a print or electronic version very inexpensively.
In future blog posts, I’ll talk more about what we find in The Practice of the Presence of God and how it relates to our own experience of God in our daily work. For now, however, let me leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Brother Lawrence. It appears in the “Fourth Conversation” as recorded by Father Joseph:
“For me,” [Lawrence] said, “the time of work does not differ from the time of prayer. Even in the noise and clutter of my kitchen—when several persons are at the same time calling for different things—I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at communion.”
How does this quotation impress you? Could you say this about your experience of God in your workplace?