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. This email is available online and on Facebook.
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
Ora et Labora:
One of the great sayings in the Western monastic tradition is Ora et Labora, pray and work. Rev. Warren uses this saying to instruct us that prayer and work are not two separate activities, but are simply the same side of the same activity. Too often, she writes, “we falsely pit prayer and work against each other . . . . These days we tend to understand accomplishments as either our work or God’s, but never both.” p.70. In other words, we work hard to bring about the good in this world, and only when we reach a roadblock or become desperate do we pray to God to help us out. Until that moment, everything that we are working towards and everything that we have accomplished is due to our goals and our effort.
Her term for this type of thinking is competitive agency. In this way of thinking. God gets all the blame for bad things that happen, but we get all the credit for making things better. The comedy skit from Daniel Sloss that she draws from is here. If you have time, please watch the four-minute video. It gives us the extreme (but quite logical) example of where pitting work against prayer leads.
We may not agree (I hope not) with Mr. Sloss but too often God can become a distant miracle worker that rarely shows up and leaves the daily maintenance of the world to us. Or God is reduced to a pious pick-me-up needed for personal moments of comfort. Prayer and work become two separate activities in our lives.
Part of bringing prayer and work together is for us to be attentive and to see how our work and our prayers are fundamentally the same. As Rev. Warren writes “When we pray for healing or redemption or peace or justice, we are praying for those who work – for scientists, doctors, poets, potters, researchers, retail clerks, farmers, politicians, and pilots – these actual and limited men and women through who God is bringing renewal.” p.72. Or to put it somewhat differently, Fred Rogers used to say “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’” Or as St. Francis says “You pray for the hungry. Then you go feed them. That’s how prayer works.” Prayers to God and the work we perform are not different. They are not in competition with one another. But they act in unison toward the same goal.
Weep, Watch, Work:
As Rev. Warren wraps up this chapter and Part Two “the Way of the Vulnerable” (chapters 3-5), she points out that working, watching, and weeping are a collective way to endure the mystery of theodicy (why bad things happen if God is good) and human suffering in general. pp. 74-75. In the face of loss or failure or the general misery of this world, our response should be to weep, to watch, and then to work. Working without allowing the space for grief or attentiveness to God, produces work that is frenzied, chaotic, and in vain. Merely watching without also mourning and laboring simply minimizes the urgent needs of the world, and makes us sentimental or passive. Finally, weeping without watching for the coming kingdom or participating in God’s work makes us fall into despair. All three are necessary, but they are needed in the right order and at the right time.
The Way of the Cross:
“God entered into this world of toil and did good work. Jesus wept, watched, and worked. He held all three together. “p.75. Through his life and his ministry, Jesus showed us that in the Kingdom, “people are healed, forgiven, restored, and made whole.” p.76. For Jesus, work and prayer were symbiotic. “His work of prayer sent him out into his active life of work, which in turn sent him back into the work of prayer.” p.76. At the end of the day, even the Son of God had to withdraw from his work for prayer. Luke 5:16.
Rev. Warren points out that weeping, watching, working, and praying ultimately led Jesus to the Cross where all of these things became present at once. p.75. Jesus tells us that we too must take up our cross and follow him. Mark 8:34. In doing so, we too should have a life of weeping, watching, working, and praying. For in doing so, we will experience the very life of Christ in our own lives.
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.
- February 14 (next week) we are having a special Valentine’s Day dinner. Please let us know if you are coming. We will discuss chapter 6 after dinner.
- February 21 is Mardi Gras. Everyone is invited to attend. This is a great opportunity to invite someone new who may be apprehensive about attending a “Bible Study.” You can show them that our group is not that scary.
Dinner is at 6. The menu is Turkey Arayes (meat-stuffed pitas with Galilean spices). Discussion about 6:45. Compline at 8.
Unless the Lord builds the house, *Psalm 127:1-3
their labor is in vain who build it.
Unless the Lord watches over the city, *
in vain the watchman keeps his vigil.
It is in vain that you rise so early and go to bed so late; *
vain, too, to eat the bread of toil,
for he gives to his beloved sleep.