Prayer and Labor

by Vinita Hampton Wright on 09/01/2014


Today we honor workers everywhere but especially those workers who fought a long battle, in this country and elsewhere, for safe working conditions, better wages, and the right to organize in order to represent themselves and protect the interests of workers and their families. As so often has been the case, the people with power and money rarely took the initiative to make the workplace safe or enforce decent working hours or pay people fairly. Of course there have been exceptions, but for the most part, the workers themselves have had to take on these challenges. We have weekends, thanks to the labor movement. It’s illegal in this country to put children to work in factories. And companies can be sued and prosecuted for unfair or abusive treatment of employees. In fact, there are now long and detailed law codes about how employers and employees must behave. These basic protections did not always exist. News headlines remind us from time to time that the labor battles are far from over. It’s good to remember that Labor Day is not just another long weekend. Here’s a description of early celebrations:

The form that the observance and celebration of Labor Day should take was outlined in the first proposal of the holiday—a street parade to exhibit to the public “the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations” of the community, followed by a festival for the recreation and amusement of the workers and their families. This became the pattern for the celebrations of Labor Day. Speeches by prominent men and women were introduced later, as more emphasis was placed upon the economic and civic significance of the holiday. Still later, by a resolution of the American Federation of Labor convention of 1909, the Sunday preceding Labor Day was adopted as Labor Sunday and dedicated to the spiritual and educational aspects of the labor movement.

Until I read this article, I didn’t realize that there was a Labor Sunday, but that is quite appropriate. I can’t speak for other traditions, but I know that Christians have a long history of joining together labor and prayer. In Latin it’s called ora et labora—“pray and labor”—and for centuries this has been a foundational principle for religious communities. Today you can visit any number of monasteries and convents and see people working and praying. They pray at intervals throughout the day, and when they’re not praying, they are working: running a retreat center, operating a farm or vineyard, or doing hands-on work, whether crafting cheese or caskets. The Jesuits have always prayed while on the move, doing every sort of work imaginable, from running prestigious universities to working with refugees in war-torn regions.

Work is honorable; it is a gift that comes with being human. Prayer is also a gift, and when we pray, we can be better guided in our work. More on that Wednesday!

Enjoy your Labor Day. Take a few moments to pray for those who still fight hard battles for workers’ rights and protections.

As we close our Praying through the Summer series, enjoy 5 Ways to Pray Outdoors by Matt Weber.


God’s Love Discovered

by Vinita Hampton Wright on 08/29/2014

I so appreciate Richard Cole’s description of his faith journey, because he’s not afraid to reveal the emotional, even physical, aspects of spiritual conversion. This is one of my favorite passages of Catholic by Choice.

Catholic by Choice by Richard Cole

I knew it was love because I was scared. Again, it was the same kind of fear I felt when I’d first met Lauren, the realization that my life was changing whether I wanted it to change or not. I went back to a journal I had kept then:

I have no control anymore over what’s happening. I see myself riding on the back of a panther through the jungle, then we’re racing along the edge of a cliff. On one side this dark, dangerous tangle, on the other a drop into empty space. There’s no way I can get off.

Part of me was panicked about losing control over who I was, or thought I was. At the same time, I worried that this wonderful, scary feeling might go away. Like a fairy tale, the enchantment would be broken, the spell reversed. . . . During the week, when I went to noon Mass at St. Ed’s, I was always nervous as I walked up to the chapel. The front door has a plain brass door knob. As in a dream, I saw my hand reaching out to turn the knob, and every time, I was afraid that it would be locked. Every time the knob turned in my hand and the door swung open, but it took months before that fear went away.

I also felt that this was True Love because it hurt. I mean literally, like a sore muscle. My heart hurt in my chest, and it only got worse. In the mornings when I was reading the Bible in the kitchen, chanting along, I’d sometimes pause and then start crying. I don’t know why. I would suddenly have the feeling of possibility, of loving and being loved in a way I’d never experienced, even in marriage. I felt that I wasn’t alone, would never be alone anymore, that God or Jesus or somebody or something was sitting right there at the kitchen table with me, and I kept on crying and sometimes wound up on the sofa or under the table, sobbing like my heart would break. I hadn’t cried, really cried, like that for years. This was radical, and it went on for days and weeks and months, as if I were playing catch-up after a lifetime of being a good soldier, my jaw clenched.

I remember at the time watching a heart operation on TV. The surgeons took a saw, like a circular saw, and chewed straight down the patient’s chest, cracking open the sternum. Then they took an instrument that looked like a vise, only with the faces turned outwards, inserted it, and then went crank-crank-crank, and you saw the whole rib cage spreading apart—it was unnerving to watch—until there was the heart, this big wet muscle flopping around. It looked ready to jump out almost any second. I watched the operation, thinking, That’s me, as if God were performing long-overdue surgery.

Every person’s conversion, every journey of faith, is different. This weekend, try to spend some time describing your own experience of waking up to God’s love.

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A Conversation about Prayer

by Vinita Hampton Wright on 08/27/2014

In Catholic by Choice, Richard Cole recounts his meeting with a spiritual director the first time he went on a retreat. It’s a great conversation about what prayer is.

Catholic by Choice by Richard Cole

I’ve been thinking about what I should ask. I want to sound intelligent and halfway literate when it comes to the Bible, so I ask her about the concept of poverty of spirit. What does it mean, exactly, when Christ said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”?

She shakes the question away—no nonsense—and looks at me directly. “Who is God to you? Do you pray? Who do you pray to?”

I flounder. “Well, uh, yes, I do pray . . . Sort of.”

“And who is God to you?”

I was hoping she wouldn’t ask. “God is, hmm, well, like a swirling galaxy. A large force. Something big. Powerful. Something like a river, maybe.”

She places her fingertips together. “When you pray, what word do you use?”

“I’ve been saying Lord the past few days. Sometimes Jesus.”

“And you don’t feel odd, addressing Him as Lord?”

No, I tell her. Maybe I’m lying because I want to say the right thing. She’s intense. I tell her that I feel odd being here at the monastery, out of place, but for some reason I don’t feel odd using those words.

We talk for an hour, me listening mostly. I desperately want to take notes, but don’t, trying as hard as I can to remember what she’s saying. Somehow, everything suddenly seems significant.

She says, “God is mysterious. We can’t understand what he’s doing many times, but remember that he is always leading you to himself. Sometimes fast. Sometimes more slowly. But always, always, he’s leading you.”

And she says, “You are being created, very deliberately, at God’s own pace. It’s like being pregnant, or cooking. If the soup takes three hours to make, you can’t rush it. Just wait. And while you’re waiting, you have to trust. You can’t presume to know what God is doing. That’s not faith; it’s a false security. You simply have to have faith.”

“I’ve always looked for a system,” I tell her, “but at the same time I’ve always been reluctant to really adopt a system.”

“Christianity isn’t a system,” she says. “It’s a Person. The Person of Jesus Christ. Everything else―doctrine, dogma, church membership―just revolves around this person.”

I tell her that I was worried that I hadn’t accomplished much over this retreat, that maybe I was wasting my time.

“Don’t worry about that,” she says. “You can’t pray your way to heaven. You can’t control the process. You might even go on a detour. But God will always draw you back, helping you along.”

She leans forward. “Remember, you are a work of art by God. You are a masterpiece! You’ve already taken the first steps. [I have?!!] God is helping you every step of the way. Your path is exactly as it should be, at the pace it should be. God wants you to find him. Your understanding might occur in a splendid, wonderful moment. That sometimes happens. Or it might develop very slowly over time. But whatever occurs is God’s handiwork, and his work is perfect and right on schedule.”

Are there any images or phrases from this conversation that strike you?

Can you remember any significant conversations you had early in your spiritual life as an adult?

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Simple Participation

August 25, 2014

We’ve talked about various ways to pray during this summer. Today we provide a video of Richard Cole, author of Catholic by Choice, a recent publication of Loyola Press. Richard is an adult convert to the faith, and he talks about how simply attending Mass changed his life. How has participation in Mass or other […]

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Let All Around Us Be Peace

August 22, 2014

This is a good meditation any time, but I’d like us to pray this song while remembering the many people who have been forced from their homes by war. I’m thinking especially of Christians having to flee Iraq. As we enjoy our own quiet prayer today, may we pray for quiet, relief, and care for […]

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