To Work Is To Pray
St. Paul wrote: When we were with you we used to say to you ‘Anyone who is unwilling to work should not eat’. 2 Thessalonians 3: 10
David’s monastery became a byword for honest, hard manual work. The monks did not hire oxen to do the ploughing, they did it themselves, placing the wooden beam which drew the plough on to their own sweating shoulders; they tirelessly dug the ground with picks, spades and hoes; and they cut wood with saws. Each person meditated while he worked; they only spoke when they needed to.
No complaints were heard at the end of a hard day’s work, when they returned to the cloisters for a period of study, prayer and writing. The instant the church bell rang they would leave whatever they were doing, however absorbing, and go silently to the church to chant psalms. Visitors noticed that both their voices and their hearts were in tune. They spent the time before nightfall in silent prayer in the church. After the brothers had left, David would stay alone in the church, pouring out his prayers.
The food and drink at supper was sparing but creative. Special dishes were cooked for the frail, and for visitors who were weary after a long journey. Before retiring to bed the monks kept vigil in church for three hours, avoiding the common pitfalls of sneezing, yawning and spitting! At cock-crow they would get up and have a prayer time, and on Saturday nights, imitating the women who went to Jesus’ tomb the night before his resurrection, they kept vigil until the early hours of Sunday.
The monks wore simple clothes, mainly leather. They shared their hearts and their failings openly with David, who was a real father to them. And they accepted his authority, willingly carrying out practical requests without question.
None of them had any personal possessions, not even a psalm book. The ‘this is mine’ mentality did not mar the monastery. When someone joined the monastery they had to dispose of their wealth before entering, but David would not accept a penny of it for the monastery, and he declined donations from people who wanted to control them. Like the Taize Community of today, the entire income of the monastery came through the work of the monks, and they each had an equal share.
Teach me, good Lord, to work with all my heart
until it can be said of me
‘to work is to pray’