It may be tacky to start off my blog with words that are not my own, but sometimes the best thoughts are shared with those that write much better than ourselves… These words are not mine, I borrowed them from Gerald Sittser’s book Water From a Deep Well… they are very challenging, convicting, and very applicable to everyone though, so I really wanted to share them. Please read and give thoughtful consideration! This is what he has to say about setting our life to a rhythm that promotes a life of living in Christ daily. Please read and enjoy.
“Monasteries create rhythm for a spiritual reason. God calls his people to two principle duties- prayer and work. Prayer draws us to God; work sends us into the world. Prayer centers and quiets us; work energizes us. Prayer restores us to God; work allows us to participate in God’s restoration of the world. Jesus himself follow this rhythm: he withdrew into the wilderness to pray, and then returned to the world to preach the good news, heal the sick, cast out demons, confront injustice, and eventually suffer and die for the sing of the world.
We divided these two activities at our peril. On the on hand, without work, prayer becomes rote, vacuous and irrelevant, an empty discipline that shows little evidence of a deep concern for the world. It loses its purpose, lacks passion, turns inward, serves the self. We mouth he words, but there is nothing at stake. It does not seem to matter much whether our prayers are answered or ignored. On the other hand, without prayer, work becomes idol. We work to make money, to gain power and prestige, to advance in our careers. We become presumptuous too, thinking that our work can accomplish good things without actually relying on God for wisdom and power. But work that pleases God and serves the common good of humanity must have God involved in it, for only God can accomplish what has transcendent value and eternal significance. Human effort is necessary, but it is not sufficient. Strangely, even churches and Christian organization fail to grasp this fundamental truth, and therefore find it difficult to practice a regular discipline of prayer. They do the work of God, but they neglect o seek the face of God. Monastic rhythm, rooted in the liturgy, forces us to strike a balance. “The prayers of the liturgy,” says Susan J. White, “become models for the prayer which occupies the rest of our lives.” All work, regardless of who dies it-pastors, parents, teachers, coaches, scholars, executives, secretaries, engineers, scientists, social workers, computer technicians- needs God’s help for lasting impact. Without God, even our best efforts are in vain.
The monastic rhythm of prayer and work establishes a routine that monasteries have followed for centuries. Routines means repeating the same activities time and time again: we pray and then we work, day in and day out. Such routine creates the conditions for God to do a subtle, deep and transformative work in our souls and in the world. It requires patience and endurance. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that one of the greatest temptations we will face once we settle into a routine of prayer and work is, as Evaruis pointed out to monks sixteen hundred years ago, acedia, a Greek word that does not translate easily. “Sloth” is not quite right because it connotes laziness, which is more a result of acedia than the meaning of it. Acediais better defined as boredom, restlessness, inattentiveness. Routine can make us impatient; we wish that there was an easier and faster way to maturity of faith and fruitfulness of life. We want to take shortcuts; we look for entertainment along the way; we expect to tbe dazzled by the rapid speed of our progress. Known as the “noonday demon” in monasteries, acedia tempts us to quit at midcourse, just when we have followed a routine of prayer and work long enough to be wear of the sameness and tediousness. Musicians contend with this problem when they are sick of practicing scales, athletes when they had enough of shooting free throws or swimming laps, scholars when they have reached a point of exhaustion doing the exhaustive research required of them. But there is no getting around it. Routine, however boring and wearisome, is necessary. Mastery comes from persisting in some endeavor when everything in us want to quit. That is true in music, athletics, scholarship, and many other earthly pursuits; it is also true in the spiritual life.
Very few of us will ever live in a monastery, and perhaps will never even visit one. But there are ways of developing a monastic rhythm all the same. We should begin by asking question about how we view time. We tend to view time, at least in the West, as a commodity we can either consume or perhaps waste. We keep schedules and create “to do” lists so that we can squeeze the most out of the time we have, using it as efficiently as productively as we can. But there is only so much we can do. As it is, we face severe limits, suspended, as we are, between a past we cannot change and a future we cannot control. In truth, we only have this present momentin which to live. the rhythm of prayer and work will enable us to relish the present moment as a gift from God, give ourselves completely to the one thing at hand and surrender our work to God through prayer.
How can we develop a monastic-like rhythm without living in a monastery? First, there is the importance and dignity of work. Study, chores, jobs, volunteer work, hospitality, service to neighbor and stewardship are examples of work, which we should strive to do with excellence and humility. But we should never work so much that we neglect prayer, which in my mind seems the more urgent discipline, at least in our culture. We can rise half an hour earlier in the morning to pray over the day and practice lectio divina. Families can set aside time for regular meals and family devotions. Husbands and wife can pray before bedtime for their children, friends, neighbors and coworkers. Roommates can invite a group of friends over for a weekly meal and bible study. Christian teachers can gather together before or after school once a week to pray for administrators, fellow teachers, students and families. Business leaders can meet over lunch to pray for the needs of the city. Above all, every one of us can try to observe the Sabbath as a day of worship, rest, hospitality, reflection and play. These are examples of healthy rhythms- praying and working, seeking God and serving God, offering ourselves to God in an act of worship and doing the will of God in ordinary life. It is the great legacy that the monastic movement has left us, a legacy that we need to reclaim and apply to modern life…
- Carefully analyze how you schedule your time over a typical week. How can you develop a healthier rhythm that reflects the monastic integration of prayer and work? For example, try to pause briefly three times during the day to pray (for the people with whom you work, the projects you are doing, the mundane activities you have to perform). In addition, pray over your day’s schedule first thing in the morning. Then, at the end of the day, review the day’s activities, thanking God for his provision, confessing your sin and surrendering areas of concern to God. Finally, try to protect the Lord’s Day, if you can, by turning it into a day of worship, celebration, community and rest. Plan next Sunday with that in mind.”
Water From a Deep Well, Gerald Sittser (pgs 114-117)