This week I’ve been at Mt. Angel Abbey in Oregon, which is a place for work and prayer. Following the rule of St. Benedict (480-547 A.D.) that “all are to be welcomed as Christ,” I have been welcomed into the daily prayerful rhythm of this place as I take a working retreat. The monastery is on a hilltop flanked by giant sequoia trees, overlooking fruit orchards in the Willamette Valley. Most mornings, heavy fog hangs among the trees and buildings. Yesterday it burned off for a view of snow-capped Mt. Hood against the blue sky. Needless to say it’s hardly a rough place to work, and I’m thankful for friends who provided the opportunity.
The primary work of the Benedictine monks at the abbey is prayer. Six times a day, summoned by the loudest bell I have ever heard, they scurry to the abbey church for the liturgy of the hours, which are prayers sung beautifully in unison (Gregorian chant style). Their prayers consist primarily of the psalms and other portions of scripture, as well as theologically-rich ancient hymns. A few are in for a temporary period (simple vows), but most are lifers (solemn vows). Table-talk among visitors inevitably surfaces the question, “what if your son or daughter decided to make a life of this?” I suspect that’s quite a dim possibility for my own kids, but it does make you consider whether “the work of prayer” is something worth devoting an entire human life to.
We applaud people who devote their daily lives to brilliance as violin players or baseball pitchers or countless other pursuits, but prayer? Is the world a better place because a very few hold it in prayer with singular devotion through the hours of each day? Are such lives well-lived?