Lessons on spirituality from the monastics
In chapter five, Gerald Sittser, in his book Water from a Deep Well is looking at the rhythm of work and prayer that the monastics established. Building on the foundations of Pachomius, Basil, Cassian, and Augustine, Benedict established his rule of St. Benedict which provided a pattern for life in the monasteries.
Sittser describes the three cardinal virtues of Benedict and his monks:
- the work of silence forced monks to discipline the most dangerous weapon the monks had—the tongue
- the work of obedience helped monks to become subservient to Christ, to Scripture, to the rule and to the abbot, in that order, which wold protect them from self-will and unruly behavior.
- the work of humility made them lowly in spirit, broke them of pride and set them on course toward heaven. 109-110
Prayer and work combined to keep their life and spirituality healthy:
Prayer protected them from turning their work into an idol; work kept their prayers from becoming an empty exercise. . . The day was ordered and busy, but never hurried and frantic. The monks prayed for their work, and they worked out their prayers. They worshipped God and they served the common good of the community. 111
The rhythm created had a spiritual reason.
God calls his people to two duties—prayer and work. Prayer draws us to ‘god; work sends us into the world. Prayer centers and quiets us; work energizes us. Prayer restores us to God; work allows us to participate in God’s restoration of the world. 114
Prayer and work needed one another to be effective
Without work, prayer becomes rote, vacuous and irrelevant, an empty discipline that shows little evidence of a deep concern for the world. It loses its purpose, lacks passion, turns inward, serves the self. We mouth the words, but there is nothing at stake. It does not seem to matter much whether our prayers are answered or ignored. 115
Without prayer, work becomes an idol. We work to make money, to gain power and prestige, to advance in our careers. We become presumptuous too, thinking that our work can accomplish good things without actually relying on God for wisdom and power. But work that pleases God an serves the common good of humanity must have God involved in it, for only God can accomplish what has transcendent value and eternal significance. Human effort is necessary but is not sufficient. 115