Prayerful Diligence

Day 24 in a month-long series on Cultivating Sanctuary.

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A humorous moment with God occurred a few years back as I complained to him, once again, about the writing of my dissertation. The dissertation process for many people causes a loss of joy in the topic studied, and since my topic was the practice of prayer in theological education, I was doubly full of complaint. Not only had I lost a love of the whole educational project, but I also suffered from what used to be called dryness in prayer–a distaste and loss of feeling and connection with God. Sitting on a tombstone, I dramatically begged God to rekindle my love of learning and desire for him. In the silence that followed, a whisper of guidance impressed itself on me, almost with an ironic smile: Write out your gratitudes for today.

Fine.

So, I dutifully wrote out my gratitudes: It was good to take a walk, it was a beautiful day, I’d actually learned some cool bits of monastic theology in the book I was reading, church had been meaningful.

One gratitude tugged at me and again the impression was clear: Write out the book title.

Sure, God. Okay. The Love of Learning and Desire for God.

It took me a moment to realize what had just happened, and then I started laughing. Here I was begging God to rekindle my joy in study and in him, and the answer looked back at me from the title of the book. Keep working, your prayer is being answered in the work you are doing. 

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Ironically, that chapter on monastic theology never made it into the final draft, but it did give me a gift: it taught me about assiduitas.

Assiduitas is the Latin word from which assiduous or assiduity comes. Diligence is a good synonym, except it is more than that. In the monastic context, every labor takes on the shimmer of prayer and every prayer is labor. The daily round of prayers is the opus Dei, the work of God, and the motto of Benedictines is ora et labora, prayer and work. For a monk, prayer is the primary work, but prayer doesn’t stop when one does work tasks–prayer and work are integral to each other. The same goes for assiduitas. It is a prayerful diligence which is used in conjunction with the monastic study of scripture, lectio divina. The monk is attentive, rigorous, and thorough in the study, out of a prayerful response to relationship with God, rather than out of a need to prove oneself astute or perform perfectly.

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The idea of assiduitas helped me reframe the often dry, long, and challenging dissertation work as a prayerful offering to God, and the practice continues in cultivating sanctuary at the Cottage.  Assiduitas expresses itself in the prayer-full completion of tasks with an eye toward excellence–whether it is winding the vacuum cord back neatly or wiping down a dirty appliance or planning nutritious meals or the welcoming of guests. It expresses itself in finishing challenging projects, reading with attention, or seeing to the on-going maintenance tasks of home-keeping.

It is a good response to procrastination or resentment. Rather than letting procrastination take hold, or the opposite, to resentfully power through, prayerful diligence imagines the doing of the task as the prayer, to be done well in God’s sight and to be done with love.

And while I so often fall short, the goal of any diligence is that deep sigh of relief that a place of sanctuary engenders–welcome, peace, grace, love.

If prayerful diligence entices you as a practice, I encourage you to choose one task, and do it slowly, prayerfully. It could be cleaning off a desk area or changing a bed or sweeping the floor. It could be doing a writing assignment or a project task that is more challenging than joyful, or something that keeps getting put off. How might doing it be reframed as an offering of prayer to God or an offering of love to others?

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