On being wholly holy at work

Published March 1, 2005

In modern Canadian society, religion is largely out-of-bounds at work, something you leave at home, like your love life. For eight hours a day we serve mammon, we give to Caesar what is Caesar’s; the rest of the time is ours to give to God … if we want to.

But, as Lucy Reid and Fred Evers point out in their book Working with Spirit, this is “as though we are leaving part of ourselves at the door when we walk into work.” Certainly, the formal observance of religion is problematic in today’s pluralistic work places, but how about the spirit, the divine imperative in our lives? “In the Judeo-Christian tradition, God calls us each by name,” Ms. Reid and Mr. Evers point out. “We are not compelled to become like someone else, someone better, someone holier, but simply be authentically ourselves.” If we are whole, we are holy – and we should be wholly ourselves in all part of our lives.

So Ms. Reid and Mr. Evers, drawing on experience with leading Spirit at Work groups at the University of Guelph, have produced a sort of how-to book, and a very good one, too. It is well written and well structured, with brief case studies, thoughtful considerations of key issues, and questions to force readers to confront their own reasons for doing what they do: “How many hours a week are you working? Why?” “If you were to be more true to yourself at work, what would you do differently?”

Working with Spirit is calm, thoughtful, and not dogmatic. It is neither a new-agey self-actualization book nor a guide to proselytizing your co-workers. It brings to bear many key points from Christianity, but it also draws on insights from other world religions. It challenges us to look at the full web of what we do, all the connections, and to find our spirit and bring it to work –to help us deal with the inevitable stresses of the workplace, and to challenge us to live the lives we know we owe to ourselves and to God. I recommend it to all, whatever their jobs.

But what if your job is politics? The separation of religion from work is a matter of common practice, but the separation of religion from politics is a matter of principle. And one person who epitomized this was Pierre Elliott Trudeau. The 21 authors who have contributed to The Hidden Pierre Elliott Trudeau: The Faith Behind the Politics all agree that, as famously private as the former prime minister was in personal matters, his religion was a level of privacy beyond. Some of the authors knew Mr. Trudeau and worked with him closely for decades and can speak of just one or two instances where his religious views were mentioned or his faith became apparent. But Mr. Trudeau was a devout Roman Catholic, and his personal beliefs were often opposed to the very things he worked to decriminalize or facilitate (for example, abortion, homosexuality, divorce). He simply felt that morals were between the individual and his or her god, and were not what the state should or even could govern. As Otto Lang explains, “the basic spirituality of Pierre Trudeau” was “individual dignity in the context of pluralism.”

Not all sections of this book are equal. Its seed was a conference on the faith behind Mr. Trudeau’s politics, and so some of the chapters are academic disquisitions, sometimes on a single point. These are detailed and generally well-structured, but they can be dry, and in the context they are at times more like long explanatory footnotes. Other chapters are by politicians who worked with Mr. Trudeau and by people who knew him on a personal level. These are not as intellectually rigorous or tightly structured, but they are more engaging.

So this book will leave you feeling sometimes educated, sometimes enlightened. By its end, you may well feel that you learned less about Mr. Trudeau and his faith from scores of pages on the intellectual roots of Personalism than you did from John Godfrey’s recollection of glimpsing a flash of near-terror on Mr. Trudeau’s face as he barely made it through a daredevil pass canoeing through some rapids: “Afterward I said to him, aside, ‘That was pretty good, but I was watching you and there was a moment.’ He turned to me and said simply, ‘There is always a moment.'” James Harbeck is a Toronto editor, writer and designer.


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