Leisure, Work, and Prayer
“The wisdom of the scribe depends on the opportunity of leisure….” (Ecclesiasticus 38.24) The apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus contains various suggestions about the importance of wisdom, how to obtain it, and how it is evidence of God’s spirit permeating all of creation. In the 38th chapter the author helps us understand that experience itself is no great teacher. Taking time to reflect on our experiences, that is where wisdom might well begin.
The early church discovered that those called to be priests really needed some assistants to help with the nitty gritty details of daily living so they would have ample time for prayer and to think about things spiritual. Deacons were appointed to allow the priests more time for reflection. Artists and writers speak of the need of open ended time so that their creativity may flow. Those we know to be wise and knowledgeable have all had time made available to them so that they could focus on higher pursuits. It does take time to ponder, to wonder, to imagine, in order that true wisdom would come to us. Those of us who do have such time owe much to many others who keep the practical matters of the world running.
These words also remind us that each of us must make time in our daily lives for reflection and prayer. Most of us at certain periods just forget the importance of empty time where we can reflect on our experiences and invite wisdom into our souls. As capable as most of us are we often throw up our hands to our daily schedules and moan about not having enough time. But usually we are able to fit into those schedules some activities which aren’t exactly prerequisites. Most of us become fairly lazy in the areas of life which might add deep wisdom. We choose to sleep later, watch television, or waste time rather than devote energy to learning and reflection on experience.
Again we might be encouraged to start each day with prayer, quiet, scripture reading, journaling, or other practices which will help us deepen in wisdom and faith. We complain about not having more of the most important things in life but we don’t do much about getting it. We hope it would fall into our laps but we don’t even pause to sit still and provide God a lap into which he might throw such wisdom. If we will devote time to listening, the holy voice will come.
Later, in the same chapter of Ecclesiasticus, the author offers this: “Laborers keep stable the fabric of the world, and their prayer is in the practice of their trade.” (v.34). He seems careful to warn those who do have leisure time – the richer members of society – that they are no better than those who must work long hours for a living. For those people, the wisdom writer would say, their very labors are the prayers that fall onto the ears of God. God notices their efforts and rewards them with his faithfulness. The leisure class had advantages and blessings which are beneficial to the human race. The laborers make a valuable offering as well, not just to us but to God himself.
Another way of looking at all this may be to remember that, while each of us would do well to devote time each day to prayer and reflection so as to touch the eternal wisdom of God, there are seasons in life where we are so busy that we can only rely on our very work to form our prayers. Mothers of young children, for instance, will say their prayer lives have been disrupted because their whole lives revolve around the demands of their infants and toddlers. For them, accepting that changing diapers, rocking their infants to sleep, nursing or preparing formula, singing lullabies, might just well be their activity of prayer. Just as laborers have little time for reflection so it is with many of us at certain times. We might be traveling so much on business or working extra hours on a case or be so stressed with duties that we have no spare time for reflection. In those times God still hears us and still speaks to us.
How might you arrange your time so as to hear more vividly the great love of God? How might you offer the little tasks of your day as prayer to the God who is involved in each detail of our lives? In it all God is that being who is working to bring all things to completion. Make time for your prayers. And when you cannot, make your work your prayer. God hears all prayer and rewards us richly.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.