This week we are discussing Chapter 5 “Those Who Work: Restoration” of the Rev. Tish Harrison Warren’s book Prayer in the Night: For Those Who Work or Watch or Weep. If possible, be still and quiet your mind before beginning the reading for this week.
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch, or
weep this night, and give your angels charge over those who
sleep. Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless
the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the
joyous; and all for your love’s sake. Amen.
1979 BCP 134
Nature of Work:
Our work is part of our human condition from the very beginning. The very first commandment given to Adam is to work – to tend and to keep the Garden that God had planted. Gen. 2:15. God’s intent is not that we are indolent but that we have a purpose to actively contribute to the cultivation and maintenance of all of God’s creation. To work is our initial calling as human beings. Our work only becomes toil because of sin. Gen. 3:17.
In working, we also partake of God’s nature. The Bible opens with the Story of God’s work during the first six days of creation. As Rev. Warren writes: “Our work – whether paid or not, drudgery or not, skilled or common – makes a difference. Done well, it adds truth, beauty, and goodness to the world.” p.65. Again, our work is part of God’s work.
In last week’s lesson, we discussed how to pay attention and how to observe ourselves and the world around us. In this chapter’s discussion questions, Rev. Warren asks us to watch how our “daily work participates in the work of God’s restoration of the world in both big and small ways.” p.179. Therefore, as you prepare for Tuesday’s discussion, think about how what you do in the world participates and further’s God’s own work in the world.
Work as Interdependence:
Our work and the work of others also demonstrate to us our interdependency. In the alternative final prayer of Compline (see below) we pray that “we may never forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil.” The very nature of human society itself depends upon a division of labor where each of us has his own work to perform for the betterment of others. This is the very essence of civilization. As Rev. Warren writes: “Our telos [our ultimate purpose] is community, not self-sufficiency.” p.66.
When we remember work in our prayers, we recognize our interdependency on each other and we pray for those on whom we depend. Therefore, as you prepare for Tuesday’s discussion, think about how you rely upon the work of others and how others rely upon the work of you. Think about one task that you do, even something as mundane as cooking or watching television, and the labor of others that it requires.
Work in the Night:
In the Prayer, we specifically pray for those who work this night. Rev. Warren takes us through what it means to work at night both figuratively and literally. Figuratively, much of the work that goes on in our society is “disappointing, grueling, unrewarding, meaningless, and even exploitive and degrading.” p.68. If you have ever seen, Mike Rowe’s Dirty Jobs, you know that not all jobs are desirable. But even in the best, most remunerative of work, anxiety related to job performance or market conditions is a darkness as well.
She also invites us to think about those jobs that necessarily take place at night. Again, most night jobs are figuratively dark as well. From cleaning offices to the third shift at a convenience store to staying up all night with a sick child, night work is usually not the most desirable work.
In thinking about work in the night, Rev. Warren points out that these jobs are often filled by the “youngest, poorest, and least educated.” p.69. These jobs are disproportionately immigrants who work jobs Americans shun at hours Americans won’t. When we pray for those who work at night, “we are often praying for the poor, the marginalized, and the most vulnerable in our society.” p.69. We are praying for the least of these.
There is an often told story about the last question on the final exam in a business class which asked: “What is the name of the janitor who cleans your classroom?” The purpose of the question is to show that everyone is significant and that everyone’s job contributes. (There is also a similar story about JFK at NASA.) Therefore, as you prepare for Tuesday’s discussion, please make an effort to learn someone’s name who is easily overlooked but upon whose work you depend.
Questions and Practices:
Rev. Warren’s suggested questions and practices for chapter 5 are:
1. Do you ever work at night? What is that like for you?
2. How does your daily work participate in the work of God’s restoration of the world in both big and small ways?
3. Where do you see the assumption of “competitive agency” in the church, the world, or your own experience? Do you see ways in which we pit “thoughts and prayers” and actions against one another?
1 . Set aside time for grief. This could be one hour or one day, but let yourself feel uncomfortable feelings and sorrow. Pray, journal, cry, sit in silence, and allow time for grief. Pray the lament psalms out loud for a week. Here are some to try: Psalm 22, Psalm 44, and Psalm 88. Memorize one of these psalms, or a portion of one of them, and recite it out loud from memory several times in one day.
3. Write a psalm of lament about your own life or about your work. Read several lament psalms first and use them as a template.
4. Journal or brainstorm with a friend the ways that you see God at work in your life, in the church, or in your community. Make a list.
5. Go to an art museum or a beautiful place in nature. Think and journal about how this beauty reflects the beauty of God. What must God be like if beauty reflects something of his character?
6. Donate money or volunteer with a ministry or non-profit that is bringing restoration to the world in some way.
7. Write a prayer or liturgy for your own work or vocation, like Noel did in chapter five. Use it for a week and reflect on what that was like.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is Turkey Arayes (meat-stuffed pitas with Galilean spices). Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8.
O God, your unfailing providence sustains the world we liveCompline, 1979 BCP 134
in and the life we live: Watch over those, both night and day,
who work while others sleep, and grant that we may never
forget that our common life depends upon each other’s toil;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.