Saint Benedict ran a monastery. He ran into the problem that many monks wanted to spend all their time praying and studying, and not do any of the dirty manual labor — housekeeping, tending livestock, working in the fields — needed to keep the place going. So he adopted and enforced the motto, Laborare est orare — “Work is prayer.”
In excess, religious study can become a drain on society’s resources. Many Haredi, or “ultra-orthodox,” men in Israel want to spend all their time in religious study instead of earning any money. (Article.) Meanwhile, a majority of them live on welfare, with eight to fifteen children. This places a burden on the remainder of society that that economy can no longer bear.
What about me?
I constantly ask myself, from moment to moment, “What can I do here and now to improve my situation?” The facts of life at the homeless shelter mean that, for large chunks of time each day, the only thing I can do to improve my situation is pray.
They wake us up at 4:45, give us breakfast at 5:15, and boot us out at 5:45. These days, I go to McDonald’s to drink coffee and do my formal prayer routine. I begin with a meditation on the Lord’s Prayer. After a break, I spend a spell in intercession: I pray for the church’s prayer list; my own prayer list; the church itself and its ministries; and the church’s community. Then I spend time in silence praying for myself.
At 10:00 the library opens, and I can go online and do job search for up to four hours.
If I can afford to, I go back to McDonald’s for coffee. I had best be back at the shelter by 4:00.
Back at the shelter, I must wait up to half an hour in line before admission. Then comes up to half an hour in line in the day room waiting for the mandatory shower. Smoke break is at 5:30. Then comes another half hour in the day room until supper. We have another smoke break after supper. 30-45 minutes more in the day room follow, until the daily mandatory exercise in nonsense they call “chapel.” That’s an hour. Final smoke break and bed come after that.
The day room consists of 60 seats arranged in six rows, all facing a wide-screen TV. There are no desks or tables. We’re supposed to watch the TV, which is normally impossible to hear over the noise of conversations. On weekdays at 4:00, we watch the Channel 13 news. We watch it again at 4:30. And 5:00. And 5:30. And 6:00 and 6:30. At 7:00 the CBS Evening News comes on, and sometimes guys are quiet. At 7:30, it’s ET.
The simplest way for me to make constructive use of my time in these circumstances is to pray: visualize my life as I want it to be, with my own job and my own apartment; training myself to actually want these things, enough to work for them; undoing untoward attitudes towards my enemies; seeking the welfare of the men around me.
I may as well be working. In fact, I am working.