The following is less a review of Chapter 5 of Robert Benson’s book, Living Prayer, and more a personal reflection about the content of the chapter.
Have you ever examined the pace of your life? How about what motivates and moves you? If you are like most living in Western Culture, you probably feel a compulsion to always be ‘doing’ something. And you probably feel an intense anxiety about life. Chances are you have a hard time recognizing the source of this anxiety.
If we look hard enough, we will see that the world is trying to stick us into its mold. This same world that Jesus loves and died for is imposing its rhythm and values onto us and demands our affection. The ‘life’ imposed is often one that exploits, oppresses, and distorts. Rather than being aware of this, we surrender to the false promises, believing that we can be totally and completely happy in this life if we by more things, or have more money. It’s funny how we do this even when we know it won’t make us happy. What might be an alternative life perspective as children of the good and gracious God we serve?
Have you ever been to a monastery? Have you ever taken the time to learn why groups of men and women live in monastic communities? The reason is prayer. The goal of monastic life is not to escape from the world in a way that disconnects one from the humanity of life, but to learn to live in union with God and march to a superior rhythm: a rhythm of prayer. Being unified with God in prayer is what makes our lives Living Prayer. We become catalysts for God’s love and purpose in this world. This is the theme Benson explores in this chapter.
“Office Hours” is a term that is symbolic of the life lived around set daily prayer times. Most commonly it is five times during each day that faithful Christians gather for prayer. Monks around the world will stop tilling the fields, stop administrative tasks, and stop any other work they are doing to pray. Free from distraction, they pray in unified voice with the Church and the scriptures. They pray when the bell rings.
We live in a world full of timers and alarm clocks that remind us of all sorts of things like: our favorite shows, when work is finally over, when school is out, when to get up, etc. Butt, do we have in our lives a bell that reminds us it’s time to stop and commune with the King? What would our lives look like if we were reminded throughout the day (with a bell?) that God was God alone and not we? That being with Him to learn and do His will is the main priority?
Benson talks about how the monks he observed at the Gethsemane Monastery are ordinary men. They are all shapes and sizes, some with dirt under their fingernails, some old, and some young. Some are cranky and some are kind. They are just plain ordinary, like you and I. They do similar tasks as you and I, as well. However, there is one difference between them and us outside of the fact they live in a monastic community. They are different because of what happens when the bell rings.
When the bell rings at various times in the day, they reorient their lives around God. This is more valuable than anything else in their day. We don’t need to live in a monastery to experience this. All can partake of this rhythm in our days. Imagine if we paused to pray with the Church. How would that shape our lives? Would it give us a more missional perspective? Would it train us to see this world not with our own eyes, but with God’s? The work we put down will still be there when we come back. We lie to ourselves and say: “The work can’t wait!…I’m much to important to stop!” Are we really?
What I’d like to suggest is that we can be monastics without fleeing from the world. We can live a type of ‘embedded’ monastic prayer life right in the midst of the world God wants to redeem. Do you remember the reporters that went into Iraq with the troops? They were embedded. So too can we be embedded. I am convinced that if we orient our lives around God in prayer; if we foster a heart of solitude and devotion to God, we will begin to see this life with God’s eyes. We will be invited into His purposes that do not cause the empty anxiety of chasing false dreams, but rather fills us with an eternal overwhelming joy and peace that surpasses all human understanding and can only be described as life to the full (John 10:10), regardless of trials that may beset us. Is it time to start keeping Office Hours?
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