Friday, January 11, 2013

To pray is to... well, pray

I find it interesting that so many people want call many things that aren't prayer praying. The Benedictine call is Ora et Labora (i.e., "Pray and Work"). It is important to note that prayer comes first and work second. Their call, their motto, is not Opus est oratio (i.e., "Work is prayer," or more specifically, in the much ballyhooed quote by John Singer Sargent, usually cited with no context- I am not picking on Sargent as I don't know myself know the context of that quote- "to work is to pray.") No, to pray is to pray. It is the core spiritual discipline.

Prayer is prayer. I think we'd all be better off just spending some dedicated time everyday in prayer instead of calling whatever else we do prayer. Even should we insist on a connection between work and prayer, which strikes me as good, work is no substitute, or replacement for prayer. If not, my question to my Catholic and Orthodox readers is, "Are we really that Calvinistic?"

In my experience, it would be more accurate to say, prayer is work. After all, "ascesis" refers to kind of "exercise" or "training." You don't train for a marathon by working on your cooking skills.

We could extend the contextless quote ad nauseum: to snowboard is to pray, to eat jelly-filled donuts is to pray, to drink a good beer is to pray, to drive fast in my car is to pray, etc., etc. It is easy to detect that this is a pet peeve of mine. In my view, one of the worst curses of our age is not the just the refusal, but the increasing inability, to make important distinctions. Among other things, this unwillingness and/or inability disables us when it comes to making important connections and relations, like the one to be made between work and prayer. But to simply mis-identify something by calling it what it is not just leads to confusion.

Perhaps the worst conflation is the one made by the so-called "new atheists" (they're atheism is only "new" if everything old is new again), who repeatedly fail to make the distinction between physics properly understood and that which is truly metaphysical. Yes, even atheists espouse a meta-" physics.

I love people who take great care with words, like Msgr Giussani. But I believe it was Nicholas Lash who insisted that the theologian is the person who "watches their language in the presence of God."

To pray frequently is the only way to learn to pray well. It is prayer that sanctifies work, just ask a Benedictine.

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