Work, Pray, Love

Long ago I learned that C. S. Lewis’ personal motto was “laborare est orare,” or “to work is to pray.” Recently I learned his motto’s source. The original is from St. Benedict, who said, "Orare est laborare, laborare est orare" ("To pray is to work, to work is to pray"). Before I knew the first half of the original quote, I thought of Lewis’ motto only in terms of work being like prayer. Now I understand the connection is much deeper.

For the Christian who thinks of them properly, work and prayer are not merely alike; they are one and the same.

When faced with work I do not want to do, it helps to remember the first work ever, which was Creation itself. It helps to remember the first work given us in the Garden of Eden, and Paul’s admonition to Colossian slaves to work for their earthly masters even when their masters were not watching and would not know. "Work," said Paul, “with all your heart, as if working for the Lord, not for men.” It helps to remember the (all too rare) moments of communion when I have sensed God's pleasure with my meager efforts. In the midst of these memories, I realize why Benedict and Lewis placed such emphasis on this idea, and although work is often difficult, although that difficulty was God’s curse for the first sin, I remain deeply grateful work was still allowed.

Even in a fallen world, work and prayer are one if done with God in mind. Work connects my spirit with the Lord’s. In work I sometimes give my best reflection of God’s image and likeness as Creator. In the beginning, work was creation. It remains so today. Creation is a gift, a flowing outward, the opposite of consumption. Pagan gods devour the earth; Jesus Christ sustains it with the perpetual gift of Himself, constantly creating everything. God's work is never done, and so may it always be with me.

Unlike prayerful petitions for my own sake or for others, unlike even prayers of thanks, when I work for God’s sake (although the work might be most menial) I return something of myself to my Maker. This is why the Lord commanded work in Eden, and why He let us take it to our exile. Because "God is love," work in imitation of His image, work for His sake, is not just a form of prayer; it is also love.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 6:34 PM  


Kay said... October 31, 2007 at 1:22 PM  

This hit me where I didn't really want to be hit. Thanks very much. But also, I have been yearning to be hit in that exact spot. I need it.
I am mulling it over. Kinda like a sore tooth.

Anonymous said... September 23, 2011 at 4:55 PM  

I'm wondering if this is what Lewis intends by the phrase. . .I see this instead as a call to recognize and live out our vocation. Within each of us are gifts and talents unique to the individual - a manifestation of God's grace. If our life's "work" is an employment and application of these gifts, then doesn't our life become a "prayer" to the divine?

If we recognize the beauty Grace has bestowed within each of us, and choose our "work" accordingly, we become the prayer.

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