Sunday, July 17, 2011

Work / Worship - What's the Difference?

I don't know how many times I have talked about how, in the Baha'i Faith, we consider "work is worship", but as I was thinking about it yesterday, I realized that this isn't really the case, is it? After all, if you were to search the Writings for that phrase, you wouldn't find it. Well, you will, in a few spots, but it is either as a title of a section in a book, such as Lights of Guidance or Baha'i World Faith, or it is part of a larger phrase from the Universal House of Justice, in which it is followed by a caveat.

So what is it that Baha'u'llah said that has led us (or me, in particular) to think that work is worship?

I'm not exactly sure, but I think it comes from the following quote, from the Kitab-i-Aqdas: "It is incumbent upon each one of you to engage in some occupation -- such as a craft, a trade or the like. We have exalted your engagement in such work to the rank of worship of the one true God."

Now this sure sounds like "work is worship" to me, but when I continue reading, it seems to me that there is a bit of a condition on it. He tells us to "occupy yourselves with what will profit you and others". I think it is those last two words that are the most significant. We should work not only to profit ourselves, but also others.

There are many jobs that we can do that are only of profit to ourselves, usually in the form of a paycheck, and seemingly few that are of profit to others.

But then again, I'm not sure that is true either.

My wife and I recently purchased a new car, and it was our experience there that has led to this article. Through a series of amusing mishaps, which, because of our patience, led to the process being in our favour, we were able to see the striking difference between individuals and how they approached the same job. In fact, we were even able to see the difference between how a single individual approached his job at different times.

To start, there was the general ignoring of us when we said we had an appointment with someone. They just rushed us in with the first available salesman, not taking into account what we had actually said. Not too cool that, but then they were the ones who had called us to see if we wanted to trade in our old car. We didn't call them.

When their error was discovered, there was a general round of apologies, but not much in the way of sincerity. It was as if they were merely reciting what they learned in salesmanship 101.

And while the first salesman began as a generic salesman with his generic spiel, treating us like automatons, he quickly discovered that I was an artist, and confessed that he was a painter. That began a good relationship. One point for him. But he had to leave to pick up his daughter at the ferry, so minus one. You don't start a sale without the time to finish it.

Eventually, on the third salesman (remember, I did say a series of mishaps), who was the one we had the appointment with, we were tired of this. All we really wanted to know was how much they were going to offer us for our car. That would determine if it was worth our time to trade it in. I said that we were going to leave. Point blank. No uncertain terms. This was taking too long.

Oh, they said, if you give us ten minutes, we'll have the numbers ready for you and you can consider them at home at your leisure. Forty-five minutes later, I was ticked off. Major advantage in our court, if we were looking to negotiate.

Profuse apologies, lots of groveling, and a promise to have the numbers for us in the morning. At 11:45.

Now, I have to admit, even though I was mighty ticked off at them, I still had fun with Shoghi because they had a foozball table. We had fun with it.

And the sales manager happened to be someone I had met at a religious function previously. We got on quite well.

Oh, and one of the other sales people that was handling us was from Kuwait, and was shocked when I said some Arabic to him. That was fun.

The next morning we went back, and the guy said that we could now begin to get the numbers down on paper.


What happened to having them ready for us?

Not a good start on their part, and so Shoghi and I went back to the foozball.

Eventually everything was ready, and so we all sat down and I talked with Shoghi while keeping half an ear on the numbers. Marielle turned to me when the guy was done and asked me what I thought. Without batting an eyelash, I turned to her and said, Well, we owe this much for our current car, plus this much for the new car, less this much that they are offering us, and we spend this much on gas, so we'll save that much, plus we can expect to pay this much in repairs on our old car in the next four years, so in all we're losing about $2400 if we accept this.

The guy's jaw just about hit the floor. Oh, did I ever mention that I'm pretty good at math?

So he said, "Just a minute. I'll be right back. I'll talk to my manager and see what I can do."

Marielle turned to me again and reminded me that we agreed to just walk if they offered us less than $5000.

When the guy came back, he raised his offer on our car by $1500. I smiled and said how that, plus the $2000 rebate they promised us on the phone would do quite nicely. Hmm. I guess he had forgotten that one.

By this point, numbers aside, we were all talking like real people: us, the salesman with the numbers, another salesman we had worked with, and the manager. We were all talking about real things.

We then took a moment, and consulted a bit as a family. Marielle was looking at what we wanted in a car, I was looking at the numbers, and we left the colour choice up to Shoghi. He was the one who went through the book and decided which colours we wanted.

Marielle then turned to talk with Shoghi, and the salesman said how he admired the way that Marielle and I worked together, and even allowed Shoghi to take part in the decision-making process. We seemed to truly respect each other. This led to a conversation about dating, in which Marielle and I were able to share some basic principles about finding a marriage partner that we had gleaned from the Writings. Marielle really captured their attention with her wisdom there. During this conversation there were three people, all three young and single guys, avidly listening as we spoke about healthy dating. This was when the manager said that he was going to take us out for Greek food so that we could meet his girlfriend. He said that the two of them would really benefit from hearing this together.

By the end, I felt that we were all good friends, that we had all learned something from the Baha'i teachings, and that they all knew that we were Baha'i.

We'll be going back there tomorrow, and I, for one, will make sure to set up a date for that dinner.

So how does all this connect to the beginning of this article? Work, done in the spirit of service to humanity, is considered as worship?

Simple. When the errors were made, and they treated us like "customers" instead of "people", when they used the standard lines from salesmanship 101 (like "There's nothing we can do to change the past, but we'll do all we can to make it right"), we had no interest and were truly ready to walk out. If we had done that, we would have been disappointed and perhaps even a bit upset. Not a good thing for the world at large.

But by being patient and letting them know that we didn't really care about the "talk", by meeting them as real people and allowing them to see us as people, friendships were developed. We were all able to share things with each other that help make the world a better place. You only need to see the previous article on entropy to understand how this will help move the world forward, one tiny step at a time, leading us ever on towards "what God hath destined for" us. Truly, can there be anything else that could surpass this in terms of worship?

When you work well, demonstrate all the virtues, truly meet people's needs, and help elevate their vision of the world around them, then you are worshipping God in practice. When you only work for your paycheck, then you are keeping things back and inhibiting the development of the world.

I think that the caveat that Baha'u'llah put in there really is quite important.

Oh, and in the end, they gave Shoghi a portable DVD player because they were so impressed with how well behaved he was, and how courteous he was to them.

And we did get the car, too.


  1. Completely marvelous post :-)

    Going to share it on Google+...

  2. Alex, Thanks for sending this. We've been studying unit one of "Reflections on the Life of the Spirit". To me this is an example of the "betterment of the world can be achieved through pure and goodly deeds, commendable and seemly conduct."
    Great post!!

  3. Thank you both. Your comments really mean a lot to me, and to Shoghi. I read them both to him and he was so happy that this story has been useful to you.

    Also, as I reminded him of what happened, I asked him if he remembered the gift that the manager gave him. He smiled and said, "Yes! A lollipop." He forgot about the DVD player. It's nice to know what's important to him.

    Oh, and at one point, while we were out walking during this whole episode, Shoghi saw a rosebush growing wild by the side of the road teeming with roses. He picked a very beautiful rose bud and brought it back for the woman who gave him the lollipop. Both she and I were very touched by his thoughtfulness.