A Spiritual Work
Every work can be a spiritual work, no matter how dull, routine or even overwhelming it may seem. The connection between our work and the spiritual life is us – ourselves. So, to spiritualise our work, we have to remember ourselves. And that means to remember ourselves as souls engaged in his world, journeying down an unknown path of uncertain duration to the inevitable end, discharging our duties because they are our God-given moorings in the sea of human life. What would a person be without duties? Or without an aim, purpose and destination? Flotsam on the sea.
Too often, lawyers feel just like that: as if there has been a shipwreck somewhere, and it’s our job to strike out in rough waters, retrieving everything of value for people who quite likely to have little gratitude, with too little time and too few resources to really do as good a job as we could. It is in just this situation that a spiritual perspective can make all the difference: the difficulties can call us to seek a higher perspective.
I am taking the example of the law, because I practised as a solicitor for many years. However, what I say can be applied to every other walk of life: the principles are precisely the same.
This Day Is Unique
“Think that this day will never dawn again!” (Dante, Purgatorio 12:8)
The first step to spiritualising our work is surely to value each day as being a God-given day, never to recur. The chances which are offered for making a contribution to the lives of people around us, for achieving in both our inner and outer lives, are always unique – and precious.
If we can call to mind each morning the nobility of our calling as human beings, children of God, souls in the material world, there is a chance we can remember this during the day. This is why morning prayer and meditation is so important: it gives us a chance to establish a vivid sense of the presence of God in our lives and in our world. The clearer this sense, and it grows the more we pray, the better the chance of making the connection, of receiving the influence of a moment of grace, while we are engaged in our work. We cannot have the state of a meditative mind while working, but we can have the influence of prayer and meditation.
Lawyers are often like gamblers, not least in that they have to take chances: on the personality of the bench, with how witnesses will perform (ours and the other side’s), and, not least, the lawyers and clients on the other side. It has to be this way: events in the large world are not predictable. Together with the laws or observed regularities of physics and chemistry, there is accident: the random intersection of two different lines of causation. We do not and cannot have control all over all accidents, although we can take steps to minimise them and their effects.
What we can plan for – in fact, the only thing we can really be responsible for, is ourselves. We are responsible for the efforts we make, how well we try, the attitudes we adopt, and how well we learn to analyse and amend our own attitudes. Most of all, no one can ever make us deny our own consciences. No accident can ever make our consciences go mute. Conscience is the voice of God in us. Nothing defines us as people quite as much as our consciousness and our conscience. They are the ground of our spiritual answerability and freedom.
So this is step one: prepare for our day with prayer and meditation, even five minutes is better than nothing.
A Race to … what?
“… what I have said to you, you will repeat, as you teach to those who live that life which is merely a race to death.” (Dante, Purgatorio 33:52-54).
What really is the point of all the frantic laps we run as lawyers? On the material level, that life is and only can be a race to death, but a race which all finish, and which none can abjure. How to not be pulled into the vortex of the legal day? If we have made a good preparation (prayer, meditation and adopting a sane attitude to our lives) then the next step is to make a connection between that preparation and our working day, between that sensible outlook and the tendency to get pulled into frenetic activity. It can help to make appointments during the day, for example, if I decide in the morning that during the lunch hour I will shut my eyes and say one particular prayer with intention.
If I knew I would be in the office all day, I might decide beforehand that at say, 9.00a.m., 12 noon and 3.00 p.m., I would – unless I was speaking with someone, or it was otherwise impossible – to turn in my chair so that I attracted no attention, and close my eyes for sixty seconds, recalling the morning meditation, maybe saying a silent prayer.
In monastic life, the divine office has this function of interrupting the treadmill. In a quieter age, the Angelus said at 12 noon and 6.00 p.m. each day had the same effect. It is not impossible to make good habits: one only has to expend a fraction of the ingenuity we spend on our files. I can place a small holy picture or icon on my desk or in a drawer to serve as a focus when needed, or say a decade of the rosary. People will go for a walk around the block, or duck put for a coffee, because they know that a change of pace and attention can help them clear their heads. These are good ideas. But I can remember my God while doing so.
Step two: make a connection between my morning preparation and certain moments in the day, when I will remember God and my soul.
Purpose and Perspective
“Be like a solid tower those brave height remains unmoved by all the winds that blow; the man who lets his thoughts be turned aside by one thing or another, will lose sight of his true goal, his mind sapped of its strength.” (Dante, Purgatorio 5:14-18)
Remember your aim: to live today as a good Christian should, praising God, thanking Him for your life, growing in faith, hope and love, and performing, to the best of your ability, good works.
I strive to perform my duty as a lawyer not because I have to, or am contractually bound, but because I love to do my duty, knowing that my duties are hierarchically arranged, with God at the climax, the guarantor and justification of all action. My duties are to God and my soul, to my family, and then to others. If I perform my duties with a clear conscience, nothing more can be asked of me.
Too often we forget about all this because our work overwhelms us: we lose our perspective and identify with whatever is before us. It’s as if we would die if we lose the next case. It’s as if the future would close in on us if we looked stupid in court, or we would go bankrupt if we lost one client.
But hope, as Chesterton once remarked, is the one great gift which is denied to the young. They imagine that each setback is the end. They do not yet have enough experience to know that life goes on. And part of the problem with us, is that we don’t learnt the lesson as fast as we might, simply because we somehow imagine – even subliminally – that things can and should go perfectly for us.
This means that we have been identifying too much with material and worldly factors. We identify with our looks, our wealth, car, house, status, firm, the work we do, how other people treat us (especially people we consider “in”), and so on.
Again, the key is to remember what is essential in us: consciousness and conscience. We should, as Christians, judge ourselves not so much by our successes and failures in material terms, as in our soul qualities: our virtues and vices.
This brings me to step three, the final one for this short broadsheet: examine your conscience at the end of the day. Have I thought, done and said what is right? If not, why not? What happened? How can I avoid falling into the same trap? It would often help to have a spiritual director: someone with whom one can speak, whether once a week or once a month, so long as it is regular.
We need the perspective of informed consciences: our own and someone else’s. Think that the this day will never dawn again, and make the most of it – for your soul, for your family and those with whom we journey through life.
All quotations from Dante were taken from Mark Musa’s translation for Penguin Classics.