Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Professional Spirit

Suppose you were standing in line-up at McDonald’s, and the person ahead of you started to lambast the little old lady who was about to take his order. The subject of his tirade? Not her service skills, but McDonald’s business practices, the nutritional value of its food, and its contribution to the greenhouse effect.

Wouldn’t you feel sorry for the poor employee? After all, she can hardly be held responsible for the McDonald’s corporate sins. As a reasonable onlooker of this scene, you might well say, “Lay off, will you? She just works here!”

In the context of our secular life, “I just work here” can be used as an excuse not to take responsibility; it can be a reneging of citizenship, a refusal to have a stake in the life of your community. In the spiritual life, however, “I just work here” is essential to relating to God and one another in the proper spirit.

This spirit, which I can only describe as “professional,” is well described in the “Big Book” of Alcoholics Anonymous:

We had a new Employer. Being all powerful, He provided what we needed, if we kept close to Him and performed His work well. Established on such a footing we became less and less interested in ourselves, our little plans and designs. More and more we became interested in seeing what we could contribute to life. As we felt new power flow in, as we enjoyed peace of mind, as we discovered we could face life successfully, as we became conscious of His presence, we began to lose our fear of today, tomorrow or the hereafter. We were reborn. (Alcoholics Anonymous, p.63)

For alcoholics who have based their entire lives on themselves and the needs of their egos, the refreshing solution is to live more professionally, that is, as if they were merely employees of the universal “Employer.”

Spiritual professionalism gives birth to freedom. The McDonald’s employee is responsible for providing the best service she can and doing her work well, but beyond that, she cannot be held responsible for McDonald’s corporate vision.

Similarly, if I as a human being “work” for the heavenly Employer, I am truly liberated from the responsibility of guiding my own destiny. All I need to do is perform the Employer’s work well, that is, be dedicated and faithful to whatever task is set in front of me. The rest I can happily leave in God’s hands.

I believe that we could use more spiritual professionalism in our world. We are a society largely dedicated to the cult of personality. We value the larger-than-life men and women who stand above their fellow human beings in the realms of art, science, politics, and entertainment, regarding them as the ancient Greeks regarded their gods on Mount Olympus. And even when an accomplishment is clearly a group effort, our first impulse is to isolate and identify the individual genius on whom we heap our adulation.

Consider, for instance, Canada’s hockey victory at the Olympics. Who could doubt that the gold medal was won by the entire team? And yet whose name resounded most loudly in the stadium that afternoon except that of Sidney Crosby? We might pay lip service to the team, but do we not worship Crosby as the current hockey god of Canada?

Whatever its value may be in the secular world, the cult of personality is the source of ultimate death and destruction in the spiritual life. The fall of Lucifer came directly as a result of his attempt to style himself as God’s equal—his own cult of personality. Spiritually, our attempts to make the ego the centre of our lives is nothing less than an imitation of Satan’s prototype, with the same destructive results.

One of my seminary professors once told me, “God is the only valid ego.” Like it or not, this is the very definition of spiritual reality. In the end, only God can say, “I am,” which is why pious Jews never spoke the Name of God (which means “I am”) out loud, for fear that “I” might be applied to the speaker. Their point is well taken: God’s personality is the only one worth building a cult around. The most everyone else can say is that we are His representatives, sent by Him and accountable to Him for everything.

As long as we go on building our own cults of personality, the burden of orchestrating our universe will continue to crush us, and we will continue to be victims of what recovering alcoholics call “self-will run riot.”

Instead, I propose that we try looking at our lives more professionally, viewing the challenges of being parents and children, spouses and friends, colleagues and neighbours, as simply a part of our human job description. As long as we do our work well, when some equivalent of the irate customer comes along to lambast us for something beyond our control, we can just say, “This is not about me. I just work here.”

The professional spirit does not mean we cannot be passionate, dedicated, involved and intimate with the realities of our lives—spiritual and material. It just means that ultimately, Someone else is sitting at head office, and His is the final word. Knowing that truth is the real secret to the freedom, peace and joy of a life reborn.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for a very fine reflection, Fr. Richard, especially at the New Year.

    I have ceased to pray with very much idea or direction of any kind, apart from intercessions for those in particular need, and for certain others close to my heart. Instead, aside from trisagion prayers, I mostly just ask "Make me a blessing to others today." That's basically what God wants to do with us, and that's how we can simply be good employees of our Employer. The details more or less sort themselves out as we go along.

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