I wrote recently that the soul of unemployment is not about money but about meaning. A magnificent online project called What’s Your Calling reinforces this idea. The site provides personal stories of people’s experience of their work as a calling, whether in spiritual or secular terms. The concept of calling, of one’s work as a vocation, as an expression of one’s values or perhaps one’s very place in the universe, is the beating heart of many people’s workday. It may be one contributing factor to experiencing work as worship as described in the Baha’i teachings. ‘Abdu’l-Baha (1844-1921) head of the Baha’i Faith from 1892-1921 wrote:
“Yes: In the Bahá’í Cause arts, sciences and all crafts are [counted as] worship. The man who makes a piece of notepaper to the best of his ability, conscientiously, concentrating all his forces on perfecting it, is giving praise to God. Briefly, all effort and exertion put forth by man from the fullness of his heart is worship, if it is prompted by the highest motives and the will to do service to humanity. This is worship: to serve mankind and to minister to the needs of the people. Service is prayer.”
It is significant that ‘Abdu’l-Baha is not limiting work as worship to any particular kind of work but the spirit in which that work is carried out. But what happens to the soul who is unable to fulfill his or her calling due to chronic unemployment? What does it mean when one’s calling cannot be answered due to an economy that appears to have no place for you?
The spiritual and existential implications may prove to be profound and should be part of the national discourse on our unemployment crisis. For example, The Economist recently pointed out that of all the big, rich Group of Seven economies, America has the lowest share of “prime age” males in work: just over 80% of those aged between 25 and 54 have a job.
People of faith have taken a lead in spiritualizing the budget debate in Washington with a campaign of prayer and fasting and some asking “What Would Jesus Cut?” There is urgent need for similar efforts to spiritualize the discourse about unemployment. People need jobs now, not just for the economic benefits but the benefit of meaning and purpose in their lives. No soul’s calling should go unanswered for lack of an opportunity to respond to it.