Three years ago, I spent a week in a Benedictine monastery for a prayer retreat. It was a beautiful place, with years and years of prayer and service soaked into the very floorboards.
While there, I became rather fascinated with the history of the Benedictine order and St. Benedict, their founder. I noticed some of the wall-hangings labeled with the motto “Laborare est Orare” (To Work is to Pray). This phrase drew me in, and I’ve turned it over in my mind since then, keeping it with me, and wondering at it.
Work as prayer became very real to me this past Sunday as I had a chance to work with some members our church’s altar guild as they prepared for the Sunday service. (The why and wherefore is a rather long and different story, so I won’t go into it here.)
So, I hung around (rather trying not to get into the way than really doing anything useful as I had not much clue what I ought to be doing), the awe of arranging the altar and wiping the sacred things with a dishcloth dawned on me. This chalice will be a means of God ministering grace to someone today. These linens will be a part of the Eucharist, demonstrating Christ’s act of love for us today. Somehow, doing such everyday things (washing and drying) the instruments of the altar grounded the act in its holiness as well as its ordinariness.
It amazed me. The service was richer that day because my work and my prayer were united. My prayer was stronger through my work, and perhaps my work was better because of my prayer.
I don’t suppose every day of altar guild work will be an epiphany. Come to think of it, I doubt every day of being a Benedictine monk or nun sees the heavens burst open, shining light on the path. But I hope, knowing the joining of the work with the prayer, I might keep them in my awareness, my heart. I hope my work might infiltrate my prayer, and my prayer wrap itself around my work.