Monday, August 18, 2008

Ora et Labora: Lessons from the Benedictines (part 1)

Benedictine monks have as their motto three simple words, "Ora et Labora," (Work and Pray). What I love about this motto is in part that it's so balanced--that the monks feel they are equally called to something so practical as work and something that seems so useless in the eyes of the world as prayer.

But I also love this motto because it joins these two seemingly opposed concepts together. When the monks undertake these tasks as part of their day, prayer becomes a kind of regular discipline that brings it closer to work. And as Kathleen Norris pointed out in her talk on acedia at this spring's Festival of Faith and Writing, a monk is able to combat encroaching unbelief by seeing every act of work--whether big or small--as a form of prayer.

I mention this not only because I seek this kind of balance in my own life between work and prayer (though I do), but also because I see a need for similar kinds of focused balance in my writing life--for one, a balance between having time to work on the projects I already have going and the need to keep the channels to new writings open.

I'll take a cue from the Benedictines by making time for both things: scheduling some times specifically meant to generate new ideas that feed my writing life and other times, even if they're limited at times, specifically meant to work out ideas into final forms. When I'm healthy and stick to this, I'll hopefully be able to see pretty much everything in my life as potentially useful for my writing--i.e., as work--but that pretty much everything can also contribute to the creation of new ideas as well.

There may be seasons when I focus more on one of these tasks than the other, but seeing them as connected and overlapping processes will hopefully help me to be able to sprinkle a bit of both throughout, no matter what the season may be.

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