Meeting St. Benedict at Starbucks

SUNDAY, JULY 1, 2012

One of my little luxuries this summer has been attending Mass on Saturday nights so that I can wake up early on Sunday morning and go for a nice, long run (something that is also commonly a spiritual experience for me) and then treat myself to reading a good book at Starbucks. This morning was no exception, and I settled down (fittingly) at my neighborhood Starbucks with Michael Gates Gill’s reflection How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else, which I picked up at Half-Priced Books yesterday on a whim.

The author recounts his fall from fortune as an advertising whiz, and his second chance as a barista at a Starbucks on the Upper-West Side of New York. As I drank three of my usual order (“tall coffee with sugar-free hazelnut!” – only one of them decaf…), I was intrigued by Mr. Gill’s description of his experience as an employee of Starbucks Coffee. From his very first day, he was taught how to treat “Guests” with care and respect, making conversation with them in order to create a welcoming atmosphere and providing for their needs. Gill also realizes, through his retail service job, that work is dignifying. Work is satisfying, not only in the fact that it gives us a sense of accomplishment, but in that knowledge that we have usually provided something for others. The author explains how he took so much pride in cleaning the store, even the bathroom, for his employer and guests!

The thought struck me almost immediately upon reading this memoir how Benedictine his experience has been! In his Rule, St. Benedict wrote, “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ,” and while his recommendation is generally intended for monastic communities, it is something that anyone in the Benedictine tradition strives for. When writing about how Starbucks treats its customers, Gill always uses the term “Guests,” reflecting the company’s attitude. And, a huge part of receiving these guests at the store involves doing the best work possible in order to meet their needs. Here, the labor so honored by Benedictines is coupled with their famous gift for hospitality to provide the best possible experience for those they encounter in this life.

Reflection has brought me to contemplate how my work experience in a Benedictine institution relates to other job positions in the world. Through my internship I have learned even more about what it means to live my Benedictine tradition, and what I have gained from this experience can be applied in my future positions. Who knew that when I casually chatted with guests at the Inn that I was involving myself in a real business practice? It just seems natural that I would let people (guests, customers or whomever they may be) know that I take an interest in their concerns and am willing to meet their needs. Everyone has something unique about them, and understanding this on behalf of a company can go a long way in business relations. I hope this philosophy is something I can demonstrate in the future to employers who have a similar outlook on serving humanity.

A big thanks to Michael Gates Gill for writing his book, as it provided me a nice read on a lovely Sunday morning and an opportunity for reflection!

By the way, what drink do you think Benedict would order at Starbucks? (He’d certainly show more moderation than I do!)

Yours truly with my copy of How Starbucks Saved My Life. (Notice my OLG Academy sweatshirt!)

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2 thoughts on “Meeting St. Benedict at Starbucks

  1. I read that book a few summers ago and truly enjoyed it. May have even recommended it to you! Welcoming others into your home, life, place of business, church, etc. is one of the best things about the Benedictine way. I think Benedict would have had a half caf venti something, which he would have proceeded to share with a friend.

  2. Tremendous reflection on the Benedictine way of life, Laura. Thank you for sharing the insights of intersection about work and faith. I love your Sunday sabbath practice, by the way.

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