By Christi Humphrey ‘08
Someone said to me recently that it takes as many years as you were in seminary to reestablish yourself once you have graduated. I don’t know if this is always true, but I do know that it has taken me several years to adjust to life outside seminary. My husband, son, and I sold our home and moved to the Episcopal Divinity School campus for the three years I was a student. After graduating, we rented a home in Watertown, Mass., while I attended a program at the Center for Religious Development, where I earned a Certificate in Spiritual Direction.
For those four years, living my faith seemed fairly straightforward. I was surrounded by other Christians. I studied prayer, scripture, and ministry. Community worship was offered daily a few steps away from my home. After graduating, my first ministry position was as a part-time minister of spiritual care for two Episcopal parishes an hour away from home. Living my faith continued to be an extension of the work I did.
There was time in my day for prayerful silence, sacred reading, and contemplation.
In October 2011, three years after graduating from EDS and needing the financial support of full-time employment, I left ministry in the Church to become an assistant store manager for an off-price retail chain. Living my faith suddenly took on a whole new meaning. No longer was I cocooned with people who practiced the same religion I did. Even harder to adjust to was the fact that religion, God, and spirituality were not politically correct topics for discussion in the lunchroom. I was used to speaking about faith and God’s presence in the world openly, but working in a secular environment, I found I had to find new ways to express myself. I seemed to move at a totally different pace than was the custom in the retail world. My fellow managers rarely took breaks or stopped for lunch. They regularly worked overtime. They spoke infrequently about their lives outside of work, and did not engage hourly store associates in conversation about topics other than work. With the increase in my work hours, 40-55 hours a week instead of 20-30, it became harder and harder to find time, to make time, for prayer, spiritual reading, and meditation. Instead of slowing down to appreciate the season of Advent, being in retail meant working six days a week, including most Sundays.
Working in the secular world, I struggled to maintain spiritual practices. I thought that living my faith meant creating a space to be in relationship with God apart from my work. It was hard to find God in the ever changing store environment, where the atmosphere was one of competition and not contemplation. My struggle led to a reexamination of what it meant to live my faith daily. I decided I needed to find ways to see God in the work I was doing and the people that I came in contact with. Three simple practices helped me do that.
The first thing I did was buy a plant for my desk. Luckily, I didn’t spend a lot of time in the back office. It was a sealed-off box of a room with no windows, white walls, and no decorations, but the living plant connected me to the natural world and helped me remember God’s created world outside that room.
The next thing I began to do was to say a prayer each time I was called to the front of the store to help an associate, to greet a customer, to meet the armored car driver, to help move a piece of furniture. I prayed that I would find Christ in the one I met and also bring Christ to them. I adopted this practice after reading about a Jesuit who greeted people daily at a monastery for 60 years. When asked how he was able to do this for so many years, he responded, “I sought Christ in each person I met.”
Finally, I began to pray regularly for the work I was doing and the people I worked with. Even though it wasn’t as easy for me to find God in the hustle and bustle of merchandising, I tried to pray each day as I drove to work and prepared myself for what the day would bring. This was something I did when I worked with congregations, but for some reason it took me a while to begin this practice in the secular world. My spiritual reading at the time included Joan Chittister’s The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages. A portion of The Rule discusses daily manual labor. Chittister states, “The function of the spiritual life is not to escape into the next world; it is to live well in this one … Work and prayer are opposite sides of the great coin of a life that is both holy and useful, immersed in God and dedicated to the transcendent in the human. It is labor’s transfiguration of the commonplace, the transformation of the ordinary that makes co-creators of us all.”
My experience working in retailing for a year helped strengthen my faith. It helped me see that there is no need to separate living my faith from my work. In fact, what God calls us to do is to live every part of each day in God’s presence. God waits patiently to be invited in, to be recognized in the ordinary routines of each day.
What has been your experience of living your faith day-to-day? What ways have you found to “transform the ordinary” to experience the presence of the divine? This article is posted on the EDS blog so you can share your own experiences.
May our hearts and minds be open to God’s invitation to find the divine in the everyday, and may God guide us to express the hope we know through faith in our work.
Christi Humphrey ’08 is the Director of Alumni/ae and Constituent Engagement at Episcopal Divinity School.