I had long heard reports that I had to watch this wonderful comedy out of England called The Office, especially since Hollywood was going to make its own version of it for American consumption. Rather than watch an American bastardization of the show, I opted to watch the British original (now available on DVD). Full of British sensibilities—that dry, understated kind of humor that is not everyone’s cup of tea—the series comes across like a dark, live action version of the comic strip Dilbert. Many of us have had bosses, or office-mates, who are unfunny and uncool, but at the same time try too hard to be your buddy. Or had unrequited crushes on an office mate. Or been tortured (or choose to torture) insufferable office mates who are a little too full of themselves. This is the stuff that makes up The Office.

“What is the single most important thing for a company? … It’s the people. Investment in people.” David Brent (Ricky Gervais, writer and director)

With the sword of Damocles over its head—that specter of corporate downsizing—this wonderfully insightful series is very much a reflection of our (corporate) selves. A fictional BBC film crew documents the lives of office workers under the pressure of losing their jobs. And what do they capture? Bureaucrats with a belly full of power overseeing their fiefdoms. Petty office politicking and bravado. Speeches laden with the empty jargon-filled language of Bureaucrat-ese, the management-speak indicative of corporate rot. People attempting to find meaning in the seeming meaninglessness of their dull, dreary, tedious existences. And this show wrings laughs out of every excruciating and embarrassing moment.

“You’re such a sad, little man.” Dawn Tinsley (Lucy Davis)

“It’s only a trifling matter.” Tim Canterbury (Martin Freeman)

This is life for many of us, going through the motions, stuck in empty patterns. Too often we are characterized by this sense of an unfulfilled existence. Tim, our favorite office worker who quietly longs to be engaged-to-a-control-freak receptionist, Dawn, has long had his confidence crushed out of him by the daily grind. All the workers come to realize that they are but cogs in the corporate machine, hopelessly trapped in a mundane world. The laughs come from recognizing ourselves in such soul-crushing monotony.

So, this begs the question how are we to connect to God through this?

I am reminded of the monk, Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection, who led a simple life as a cook then later as a shoe repairman. He learned to find communion with God in ordinary circumstances, through a simple discipline he called practicing the presence of God.

“I gave up all devotions and prayers that were not required and I devote myself exclusively to remaining always in his holy presence. I keep myself in his presence by simple attentiveness and a general loving awareness of God that I call ‘actual presence of God’ or better, a quiet and secret conversation of the soul with God that is lasting.” (Brother Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God: Critical Edition, 53)

In all things, Brother Lawrence sought to maintain a constant awareness of God’s gracious presence in his life. For this, this “practice of the presence of God” was “the essence of the spiritual life” (34). One of the best descriptions of his simple practice is found in his Spiritual Maxims:

The holiest, most ordinary, and most necessary practice of the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It is to take delight in and become accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time, at every moment, without rule or measure, especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin. (36)

This method is modeled for us in The Office. All of the characters are aware of the documentary crew filming them, this ever-present camera that records their conversations and observes their lives. Once aware of the camera, becoming somewhat comfortable with its intrusive presence, they can’t help but converse with it during the course of the day. The characters know that they are being filmed so they try and put on their best behavior (failing in hysterical fashion despite themselves). The camera never seems to respond, but its presence is both unsettling and comforting.

Your picture, your awareness, of God affects how you live. In The Office, we have a reminder—a mirror held to our collective faces—of how we can squander living life as if God was present at all times in all situations. We have an example of how easy it is to forget that He is available and accessible in all circumstances of life, even the mundane activities of daily living. Simply assuming that God is present and then living accordingly can greatly impact one’s life. We become formed by this simple yet profound discipline as we learn to appreciate every encounter, every circumstance, as an opportunity to know God.

This dark comedy rings entirely too true for anyone who has ever worked in an office. It is brilliantly written and I can only hope that it translates well to our American shores.