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Unemployed find renewed spirituality

NOT too long after she began working at a hospital in Pittsburgh, rumors of impending layoffs nearly paralyzed Margaret Matthews with fear. It wasn't until a decade later that the layoff actually came. More than once Ms. Matthews faced empty cupboards.

After nearly two years of sending out scores of applications, she found a job working with the disabled. Now the old fears have disappeared as she learned during her unemployment to place ``ultimate faith'' in God.

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``It became a real tight friendship because you're constantly leaning on Him. And you're very much aware you're leaning on Him.... I could feel the warmth. I could feel the love,'' she says. ``You lose your fear.''

The way individuals live out their faith at work has gained growing theological attention in recent years. Ironically, one of the richest sources of reflection on the spirituality of work is coming from the unemployed, who have been forced by losing their jobs to take a step back and examine the meaning of their earthly vocations.

Where once work defined their lives, many unemployed people find their faith deepening as they turn to God to help them face the trials of unemployment, says Joseph Gosse, author of a booklet on ``Unemployed Workers.''

The booklet is part of a series of publications on the spirituality of work developed by the Chicago-based National Center for the Laity.

``It can be a catalyst for deepening our own sense of self-worth and meaning,'' Mr. Gosse says. ``We can think again about this question of Jesus: What will it profit us if we gain the whole world and suffer the loss of our undying souls?''

But Gosse says that in his interviews with unemployed people, he found that many spoke of a deepened spirituality. Some reported returning to the faith they grew up with.

``When I felt worthless, I found that my religious values were still there. I found the support I needed in my church,'' says one man who spent 18 months looking for work.

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In his own experience, Gosse remembers the solace he took during busy days of looking for work of just being able to stop in a church in the afternoon and pray.

``You're thrown back on a deeper sense of security, a deeper sense of faith,'' Gosse says. ``You had to somehow realize your work, what you do, didn't comprise all your meaning.''

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