Ora Et Labora and Uvalde

A few days ago, I found myself in the funk of human depression over the murder of innocent children in Uvalde. Deep darkness is possible within the realm of our God-given freedom. We saw ‘us’ at ‘our’ worst, and now we are living the aftermath in repeated news cycles, blaming cycles, and anger cycles. From the gush of Steve Kerr’s angst to the aching silence of those who have no words, we long for a better world than this.
In that moment of hearing the news from Uvalde, I did not have words. A friend sent me the prayer that a Jewish Rabbi offered following the Newtown shooting on December 14, 2012. His prayer became helpful to me as a way into this evil. As I shared it, someone eventually asked the question about prayer that fails to act. The cliché “thoughts and prayers” has certainly not slowed the frequency of school shootings.
This morning I was remembering the work of St. Benedict almost 1500 years ago. His context was the fall of Roman Empire, a time when the world seemed to be coming apart at the seams. His response was to lead a life of refection in which ora et labora became his daily pattern – prayer and work. This dance between prayer and work/labor formed the Benedictine community, and this community has graced our world ever since.
We pray because we are incapable of creating a just world on our own. If it were humanly possible, it seems we’ve had more than ample time and opportunity to pull it off… somewhere, anywhere. We pray because the world we long to live in has not yet arrived. We pray because human thriving is rooted in the ways of God and we only have glimpses of what it looks like, the best of those glimpses being Jesus. Prayer glimpses. We pray because the God who created us as responsible work partners refuses to snap divine fingers and give us presto solutions. So… we pray.
And then we go to work, grounded in prayer, yet still praying through beads of sweat as we labor to bring God’s ways into reality in our broken world. I’ve often wondered if the grunt of human labor is not a sweet-sounding prayer to God. We work because God has made us capable of thinking, creating, imagining, building, and solving. We work because the machine of politics is deeply flawed and exceedingly slow. We work because our words to those we vote for (and against) create a cascading expectation that they do what serves the common good. We work because every deranged child needs someone who sees and knows him. We work because weapons of death require people of peace to short-circuit their killing power. We work to protect our neighbor from those who have no capacity to govern their rage. We work because angry blaming rarely makes anything but enemies. So… we work. And then we pray. And then we work some more.
As the vision of the New Jerusalem plays out in the ending chapters of The Revelation, the nations begin to pour into the holy city. They are marching into the kingdom-of-God-come-down-to-earth-city where God will dwell with us forever. The only thing they bring with them is the work of their hands, the product of their cultures, the art and music of the people, the beauty they have constructed along the way, their instruments of healing, their laws of justice and mercy. These people have worshipped the suffering and slain lamb, and they have prayed in the middle of a beastly evil world. And now they have something in their hands to show for their prayers – their work.
Addressing Uvalde will require ora et labora, prayer and work. St. Benedict invites us into this seamless existence that unites the practice of prayer and work. I find myself in this moment hoping to be “alike at work and prayer”, seamlessly praying and working.

When morning gilds the skies,
My heart awaking cries:
May Jesus Christ be praised!
Alike at work and prayer
To Jesus I repair:
May Jesus Christ be praised!

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