Good Zeal

Of tools and tethers

We’ve been busy these past few weeks adjusting to the various sights, sounds, and disruptions of living in a construction zone. Despite our high spirits and excitement over the launching of the renovation project, all adjustments carry at least a little bit of stress, and recently the time grew ripe for us to relax together and have a party. And so we did.

Four Sisters got together to plan, shop, and decorate, and then they invited the rest of us to the Rafter Room for Banana Splits, ice cream sundaes, root beer floats, and every kind of ice cream topping you can imagine. Sister Lynn Marie brought her guitar for some high-spirited musical entertainment, and I fired up the LCD projector for a slide show. The décor featured helium-filled balloons, anchored in place by the construction tools to which they were tied.

The tools were a clever thematic element. But perhaps they were more than that. Perhaps they illustrated metaphorically the degree to which work helps keep us anchored when we are tempted to let ourselves float away in thought, in distraction, in unending leisure, in unbounded pursuit of personal gratification… Work keeps us present. It keeps us engaged with the places and the people around us. It keeps us anchored in this beautiful, challenging, joy-filled, and poignant world.

And of course it’s not just mechanical tools that keep us anchored. St.Benedict, in his Rule for monks, devotes an entire chapter to The Tools for Good Works in which he describes the spiritual tools that keep us anchored in loving service to those around us, tools such as “relieve the lot of the poor…go to help the troubled…do not injure anyone…speak the truth with heart and tongue…”

The traditional Benedictine motto, Ora et Labora, or Pray and Work, evokes well this balance to which we are called – a balance that calls us to pause from our labors, and then rise to take up our tools again. A balance that keeps our ‘thought bubbles’ from rising infinitely in self-absorbed reverie…that keeps our tools from becoming idols…that keeps our prayer from becoming only a “me and God” affair disconnected from the needs of our neighbor… A balance that intertwins prayer and work in such a way that our work becomes a prayer, a prayer that is tethered both to God and the needs of the world, bringing heaven to earth, and lifting earth toward heaven.

Postscript: Prayer, always a constant in the monastic “toolbox,” is keeping us well-anchored through the challenges of construction.

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