Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Work, Prayer and Leisure

The other day I was kneeling in my pew before the start of mass. Having said all I had to say to God, I sat down to await the entrance of the priest. And that is when I realized that I had just spent the last five minutes telling the Lord about the two different approaches to my research status report and why a lot of footnotes would really make sense in this particular case.

Now perhaps this was simply an example of me being too tired and too caught up in my studies to focus on my prayer. In fact, I am rather certain that explains at least part of my strange conversation with the Almighty. But I would like to suggest that there may have been something else at work as well.

Some years ago I was creating a folder on my computer for all of my school papers and things. Following the example of "My Documents" I named this one "My Work." But after a time I came to see my studies as far more than monotonous labor, or even passably interesting labor. I came to see it as a calling, and I renamed the folder "My Prayer." You see, for me, studying is not simply something I do; it is existentially part of who I am. Thus, when, on my good days, I offer my studies to the Lord, I am giving Him myself. Not all of us are called to be academics, but all of us have a calling, a vocation, and not just in the sense of married life or religious life. We all have passions, talents, things we love to do; many of us will find ourselves making a career out of them. Offered to God, this can be more than work; it can be prayer.

Related to, but separate from, this line of thought, I would like to propose another. Studying is, for me, not really work at all, but leisure. Oh, of course, there are those days when I am not keen on reading yet another article on the gendering of intercolonial trade in 18th century Burmudan literature, but on the whole, study is a kind of leisure. It is not just a matter of numbers - that a majority of the time I enjoy rather than loath my studies, and therefore they must be leisure - but something more fundamental.

Josef Pieper defines leisure as "an attitude of mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a capacity to perceive the reality of the world." I have neither the time nor the desire to flesh out his whole argument here, so I suggest you pick up a copy of Leisure, the Basis of Culture, one of the great works of the 20th century. In it he contends that religion can only be born of leisure, wherein man finds the time to contemplate Nature and the Divine.

Now, admittedly, the mechanics of footnotes is not quite the same thing as contemplation of the Divine. Still, study is - or at least ought to be - oriented to a right perception of the reality of the world. And who better to tell about my halting attempts to understand the world than its Maker?
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