Posted by: jevcat | November 7, 2010

Working Prayer

“ … they keep stable the fabric of the world, and their prayer is in the practice of their trade.”  Ecclesiasticus 38:34

The Old Testament part of the Daily Lectionary has been working its way through Ecclesiasticus lately.  One morning last week the selection included a description of various professions and trades and the quote above. I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Maybe because I’ve been unemployed for more than a year now, “work,” and the idea of work, have assumed a greater and greater importance to me.  So much in our society, who we are – or at least who we are perceived to be – depends on what we do.  So what happens when we do nothing?  Whether from job loss or for health reasons, if we have no work, it can feel as though we cease to be real persons in some sense.

I see this in my Beloved, who has been disabled for years and despite more pain than I think I could function with struggles to make a little extra money through building carefully and lovingly crafted scale models of buildings and machines, often from scratch, for sale to model railroaders – or lately, for not sale, given the economy – on the Internet.  And now I see it in myself.  When I have a freelance job, my heart lifts and my mind engages, and the money I earn, while important, would actually be secondary if we didn’t need it quite so desperately right now.

Perhaps one has to be without work to appreciate its value.  I miss the rhythm of the work day, the challenges, the companionship, the sense of purpose, but I think what I miss most is feeling useful.  I miss contributing to the stability of the world as much as I miss living in a stable world.

This is something the church has long understood.  St. Benedict, in crafting a Rule for monks who had chosen to live lives of prayer dedicated to God, still considered work so important that he built it into every day for his brothers.  Benedictines vow stability, and so they must have work.  It seems as though for St. Benedict, the Mary/Martha dichotomy so many of us struggle with didn’t exist; for him, both have their place.  And maybe, in some sense, you can’t have the best of the one without participating in the other.

So where does this leave someone like me?  If prayer is the practice of a trade, what about those of us who (hopefully temporarily) currently have no trade or work.  Can we still pray?  Truthfully, I find prayer harder now, or at least quiet meditation is harder.  I feel the pressure to always be looking or networking or revising a resume or composing a new cover letter.  Sit down for a quiet moment with God, and my brain leaps to life with questions on how to meet bills, new places I could network, where will we go if we lose the apartment, just how did the Cratchits manage that Christmas dinner before Scrooge’s conversion?  When I consider the lilies of the field, it’s more like wondering how they got the job of blooming and whether their agency is hiring; I hope I don’t get down to wondering if they’re edible.

So how do I “keep stable the fabric” of my own world in the face of all this and with Tea Party folks comparing unemployment compensation to feeding stray dogs? (which would only be an apt comparison if the strays had previously paid into a fund to help stray dogs, but we won’t go there).  And what does it mean for our society and its stability that so many of us have no work?  How do we keep intact the fabric of the nation?

Maybe what it comes down to for me is:  I write.  I may not be getting paid for it right now, but it is my trade and craft, as well as my need and love.  It is who I am, and it darns up the raveled sleeve of my life at the moment – at least while I’m writing – and maybe, like the spiral of a spider’s web woven from the inside out, that strong fabric will become part of the larger fabric, helping build and repair the wider good.  For now, it’s all I can do.  So that is my prayer.

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Responses

  1. You have great gifts for writing and for prayer. Your writing, of course, is prayer and is a gift to those (myself included) who look to you for illuminating reflections.

    • Thank you, Francesca, for the support.

  2. I had a neighbor who is a “Mary” and who thought I wasn’t. I told her there had to be Marthas and that was who I was. I helped her to understand that you can’t be two people at the same time and while she was meditating and praying I was getting the work of the Lord done. It was a great learning experience for each of us and after 38 years we are still carrying on our own responsibilities including being “sisters”.

  3. Maybe what it comes down to for me is: I write. I may not be getting paid for it right now, but it is my trade and craft, as well as my need and love. It is who I am, and it darns up the raveled sleeve of my life at the moment – at least while I’m writing – and maybe, like the spiral of a spider’s web woven from the inside out, that strong fabric will become part of the larger fabric, helping build and repair the wider good. For now, it’s all I can do. So that is my prayer.

    AMEN, sister!
    blessings
    jane

    • Thanks for the affirmation, Jane!


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