Image via WikipediaThe Economics of Soul
Care of the soul requires ongoing attention to every aspect of life. Essentially it is a cultivation of ordinary things in such a way that soul is nurtured and fostered. If we do not tend the soul consciously and artfully, then its issues remain largely unconscious, uncultivated, and therefore not at peace.
In many religious traditions, work is not set off from the precincts of the sacred, carefully designed life as are prayer, meditation and liturgy. Formal religion always gives us hints about the depth dimension of anything in daily life, in this case the idea that work is not the secular enterprise the modern world assumes it is. Whether we do it with mindfulness and spiritually, or whether it takes place in unmitigated unconsciousness, work affects the soul profoundly. It is full of spiritual areas and speaks to the soul at many different levels. It may for example, may bring up such factors as honesty, a days work, etc. They may be connected to religious rules, traditions, and ideals. Or work may be a means of sorting out issues that have little to do with work itself. It may be a response to eternal reward. We may find ourselves doing work that has been in the family for generations or working at a job that appeared after a number of coincidences and/or divine guidance. In this sense, all work is a vocation, a calling from a place that is the source of meaning and identity, God, the roots of which lie beyond human intention and interpretation.
The technical name for the category of rituals that take place in church, such as baptism or the eucharist, is liturgy. It comes from the Greek words laos and ergos, which together can be translated simply as “ordinary person’s work” or “the labor of the laity.” The rituals that take place in church are a kind of work, the soul’s work: something of the soul is being impacted by the work of the ritual. Still there is no need to separate that work from the work that goes on “in the world.” From a depth point of view, all work is liturgy. Ordinary actions, too, accomplish something for the soul. What takes place in a church is an examplar for what happens in the world. Church points out the profound, often hidden nature of worldly activity. We could say, then, that all work is sacred, whether you are building a road, cutting a person’s hair, or taking out the garbage.
We can bridge the gap between sacred church and secular world by occasionally spiritulizing the everyday things we do. It isn’t necessary to place a cloak of religiosity on everyday work in order to make it sacred; formal ritual is only a way of reminding ourselves of the ritual qualities that are in work anyway. Workers assume that their tasks, too are purely secular and functional, but even such ordinary jobs as carpentry, secretarial services, and gardening relate to the soul as much as to function.
Our work takes on narcissistic qualities when it does not serve well as a reflection of self. When that inherent reflection is lost, we become more concerned instead with how our work reflects on our reputations. We seek to repair our painful narcissism in the glow of achievement, and so we become distracted from the soul of the work for God’s glory. We are tempted to find satisfaction in secondary rewards, such as money, prestige, and the trappings of success.
It’s obvious that climbing the ladder of success can easily lead to loss of soul. An alternative may be to choose a profession or projects with soul in mind. If a potential employer describes all the benefits of a job, we could ask about the soul values. What is the spirit in this workplace? Will I be treated as a person here? Is there a feeling of community? Do people love their work? Is what we are doing and producing worthy of my commitment and long hours? Are there any moral problems in the jo9b or workplace – making things detrimental to people or to the earth, taking excessive profits or contributing to racial and sexist oppression? It is not possible to care for the soul while violating or disregarding one’s own moral sensibility. Narcissus and work are further related because the love that goes out into our work comes back as love of self.
When the soul is involved, the work is not carried out by the ego alone; it arises from a deeper place and therefore is not deprived of passion, spontaneity and grace.
Money and work are, of course, intimately related. By splitting concern for financial profit from the inherent values of work, money can become the focus of a job’s narcissism. In other worlds, pleasure in money can take the place of pleasure in work. Still, we all require money, and money can be an integral part of work without loss of soul. The crucial point is our attitude. In most work there can be a close relationship between caring for the world in which we live (ecology) and caring for the quality of our way of life (economy).
Mooney is simply the coinage of our relationship to the community and environment in which we live. It is the recognition that community is necessary and that it requires rules of participation. Money is cental in our attempts to live a communal life. From the perspective of soul, wealth and poverty come together in responsible use and enjoyment of this world, which is only leased to us for the period of our tenure here. The soul is nurtured by want as much as by plenty. When I speak for the soul of poverty, I do not mean one should romanticize Poverty as a means of transcending bodily life. Certain forms of spirituality flee the evils of money in favor of transcendence and moral purity.
Money can easily swamp the soul and carry consciousness off into compulsion and obsession. We have to distinguish between shadow qualities of money that are part of its soulfulness and shadow qualities of money that are part of its soulfulness and symptoms of money gone berserk. Greed, avarice, cheating, and embezzlement are signs that the soul of money has been lost. We act out the need for wealth of soul through its fetish, gathering actual sums of money without regard for morality, rather than entering the communal exchange of money.
Money brings us into the hand combat in the sacred warfare of life. It takes us out of innocent idealism and brings us into the deeper, mo9re soulful places where power, prestige, and self-worth are hammered out through substantial involvement in the making of culture. Therefore money can give grounding and grit to a soul.
The pleasure of hoarding can be seen as an archetypal quality of money itself, which becomes soul-denying only when it is the only way we deal with money, or when we use it for purely personal reasons. If the shadow is not acknowledged, however, the hoarding may be carried out with feelings of guilt, a sign that we are trying to do two things at once – enjoy money’s hoarding shadow and yet maintain innocence.
The relationship0 between money and work carries so much spirituality that it is both a burden and an extraordinary opportunity. Many of the problems associated with work center on money. We don’t make enough. We feel we are worth more than we are making. We don’t ask for the amount we deserve. Money is our only concern. Our fathers will be proud of us only when we have made as much as they have or more. We will feel part of adult society only when we have all the hallmarks of wealth and financial security. As a result of such feelings, we respond to money either shunning its power – or compulsively.
Failure in Work
According to traditional teaching, it is the life-embedded soul, not soaring spirit, that defines humanity. Christianity offers a profound image of this gesture of descent. Artists have painted hundreds of versions of the Annunciation, the moment when the Holy Spirit in the form of a bird in a shower of golden light makes the lowly women, Mary, pregnant with a divine child. This mystery is remembered every time an idea is brought into life. First we are inspired, and then we search out ways to give body to our inspirations.
If we could understand the feelings of inferiority and humbling occasioned by failure as meaningful in their own right, then we might incorporate failure into our work so that it doesn’t literally devastate us. Wallowing in it rather than letting it affect the heart, is a subtle defense against the corrosive action that is essential to it and that fosters soul. By appreciating failure with spirituality, we reconnect it to success.
Creativity with soul
Creativity, another potential source of soul in our work lives, is vital. Usually we imagine creativity from the puer point of view, investing it with idealism and lofty fantasies of exceptional achievement. In this sense, most work is not creative. It is ordinary, repetitious, and democratic.
But if we were to bring our very idea of creativity down to earth, it would not have to be reserved for exceptional individuals or identified with brilliance. In ordinary life creativity means making something for the soul out of every experience. Sometimes we can shape experience into meaningfulness prayerfully and spiritually. At other times, simply holding experience in memory and in reflection allows it to incubate and reveal some of its inspiration. Creativity may assume many different forms.
A mother may enjoy raising her children for months or years, every day thinking up new ideas for them. Then one day the inspiration leaves and emptiness takes over. If we could see how our blank spots are part of our creativity, we might not so quickly exclude this aspect of work from our humble lives.
Creative work can be exciting, inspiring, and godlike, but it is also humdrum, and full of anxieties, frustrations, dead ends, mistakes, and failures. It can be free of narcissism and focus on the problems the material world furnishes anyone who wants to make something of it. Creativity is, foremost, being in the world soulfully, for the only thing we truly make, whether in the arts, in business, or at home, is soul.
As we do our daily work, make our homes and marriages, raise our children, and fabricate a culture, we are all being creative. Entering our eternal life with generous attentiveness and care, we enjoy a soulful kind of creativity that may or may not have the brilliance of the work of great artists. The ultimate work, then, is an engagement with soul, responding to the demands of eternal life as it presents itself. Then the satisfactions of our work will be deep and long lasting, and undone neither by failures nor by flashes of success.