On the BCP and Benedictine Values

Scott points us to this wonderful reflection on the Daily Office, the BCP and a life formed in prayer. I’ve not encountered this blog before, but if Scott gives it high marks, it’s worth a read.

One tiny quibble, however. Fr. Hayes writes:

Prayer is the heart and soul of any life. Benedict was/is so correct
when he states that “To pray is to work; to work is to pray.” THAT is
why the church exists – to help people to pray.

Unless I’ve both misremembered and missed it in a quick electronic scan of the rule, Benedict doesn’t actually say this. It’s present by implication through Benedict’s practice of referring to the fixed hours of prayer as the Work of God (opus Dei). But it’s not explicit. Rather, this formula  is very similar to a quotation from Cassian’s Institutes (can’t give you a citation; my Institutes are 600 miles away…) but Cassian’s intent is something different.

In this passage, he’s talking about the twinned manual labor and prayer of the Egyptian monks. In it, he marvels at how long and hard they work and wonders if it is the work that makes the prayer possible or the prayer that makes the work possible.

Don’t get me wrong–I think Fr. Hayes is absolutely right in what he’s saying about prayer being the heart and soul of life and that the great function of the Church is to connect people with the reality of the life hid in God with Christ through prayer (including the sacraments). The reason I take the trouble to bring this up is because I think fussing with this point is necessary for a healthy and helpful understanding of the priesthood of all believers, the theological vocation of those of us who are not clergy or monastics.

I’m still wrestling with what it means to fulfill the Pauline and deeply monastic command to “pray without ceasing”. On one hand, virtuous work well done can be a kinetic act of prayer for those of us who live and work in the world. On the other hand, I wonder if we sometimes let ourselves off the hook too lightly when we take that tack. I sometimes think that the manual labor jobs I’ve done in the past lend themselves more fully to a true mingling of work and prayer of the sort Cassian describes than my current forms of intellectual labor. That is, aren’t there varying levels of passive mindfulness and active prayer that can still be pursued by those in the world?

I don’t know–I’m still fussing with it. In any case, go and read the post and tell me what you think…

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5 Responses to On the BCP and Benedictine Values

  1. I too have found that I can integrate work and prayer more seamlessly in my non-academic labors, though sometimes a light surprises the Christian while he writes a scholarly article. I remember a point in working on Anselm’s Christology when I found that I wasn’t just doing scholarship any more: I was loving Jesus. But such moments are exceptional, in my experience, and precious for precisely that reason.

  2. Indeed, Postulant. The labors you and I engage in can be very tricky.

    It’s quite tempting to say that, when in the academic realm, I’m doing religion and spirituality all day long but all too often it’s in a completely different mode.

    This is what confuses *so many* first-year seminarians. They think that studying the Bible and theology are equivalent to or acceptable replacements for spirituality which is fatally untrue. Hopefully professorial types know that by now—but too many seem not to have learned it early enough…

  3. Jon says:

    It seems to me that the more difficult the task or the more of oneself something requires the harder it is to realize that one is loving Jesus by doing (in? through?) the work. Certainly it’s much easier for me to pray and quietly sing bits of hymns at work (where I’m stocking shelves) than it is for me to do the same sort of thing while reading.

    What you say about studying religion doesn’t surprise me particularly. If it’s anything like the undergraduate level study of religion it would be more like hearing folks talk about God or about what other folks said about God than actually looking towards God.

    Jon

  4. That’s precisely it, Jon; there’s a great difference between talking about God and talking to God.

    The East reminds us that the theologian is one who prays (i.e. talks *to*); in the West, the theologian tends to be the one who talks *about*. Same word but with rather different meanings and intents.

    Both are necessary, though. Both can be contained within the same person, but the two activities so rarely cross (as the Postulant notes) that they’re healthier reckoned separately.

  5. John-Julian, OJN says:

    Glad you discovered Fr. Perren Hayes.

    He is a good friend — and for many years was my non-stipendiary Sunday assistant priest. He’s been battered around a bit — on some occasions probably because of his mildly bellicose style — but a solid theologian — like me, a part of that generation when seminary graduates tended to be theologians — and tuned to the mystical — like me, a part of that generation when seminary graduates tended to honor the mystical!

    And, yes, certainly, Jon is right: the less intricate the work, the more easily can it become prayer. I recommend floor scrubbing, wall painting, and garden weeding! And sometimes the first reading of a spiritual master can work: my first reading of Cassian put me into the third heaven!

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