When the holy ABBA Anthony lived in the desert he was beset by spiritual apathy and attacked by many sinful thoughts. He said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone; What shall I do differently? How can I be saved?” a short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and platting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an Angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the Angel saying to him “do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.
~~~ Sayings of the Desert
In a recent google search I received 776,000,000 hits to my search “Prayer Book”. Our world is searching for and hungering for a way to pray. The disciples of Jesus said, “Lord teach us to pray,” and he gave them what we called the Lord’s Prayer or the Our Father. People who seek God want to pray, but prayer is sometimes, many times, difficult to manage in the lives that we live. Most of us were taught to prioritize our lives so that we can be successful in all that we do. We are busy, anxious, stressed, depressed, tired and in the amid hustle and bustle, prayer gets shoved to the back. It is overlooked and neglected while we go about the important tasks that each day brings us.
This model was later refined by Benedict of Nursia the founder of modern Monasticism. He wrote a rule to guide those who felt the calling of God to enter a religious community. The Rule was a guidebook on how to live in a communal setting and get closer to God. Benedict used a Latin phrase- ORA LABORA –or work and prayer. The purpose of any monastic community is prayer and closer union with God. Prayer can be words, listening to scripture or simple silence in the presence of God. The Monks of his time and those of today have a daily prayer schedule called the Office of Hours. There are seven times of prayer a day for the Monk of strict observance.
Benedict and Anthony both realized that a man had to do more than pray 24 hours a day. In his Rule Benedict states – “Idleness is the enemy of the soul” and he set a path for work at every community that allowed it to thrive spiritually and physically. The Monks were given various tasks and commitments that go to support the Monastery and help the outside community. These tasks are as widespread as greeting guests, making bread, candles, and as diverse as making coffins. The Bible is very clear and speaks of idleness many times. One of my favorites comes from Proverbs – “One who is slack in work is close kin to a vandal.” (Proverbs 18:9) Work is essential part of our spiritual life.
Obviously very few of us are ever going to join a monastic community, but we all want to pray and get closer to God. If we are to be truly closer to God, we must develop a rhythm of work and prayer that allows us to praise God for all he has given us. We must offer our work up to God and feel that he is using us to help his creation. To do so we are compelled to find our rhythm of work and prayer. I hope that you can find a rhythm that will free you to be the person that God created.
LORD, I offer myself to you today. Let all that I do with my hands be credited to you. Lead me to a place where prayer and work are both natural and are a part of my service to you. Grant the peace to be able to develop a life that is pleasing to you.