Archive for Work

Toward a Theology and Spirituality of Rest

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on February 10, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

SleepAlthough not everybody is a fan of his methodological approach to theology, his particular conclusions, or his theological starting points, I know of no one who would not readily admit that the late German theologian Karl Rahner was a genius. Even if you disagree with him for substantive or unsubstantial reasons, Rahner’s insight and impact, even to this day in the field, is really unmatched in the contemporary Catholic Christian academic (and pastoral) world. I thought of this particularly prodigious thinker this morning when I read Tony Schwartz’s guest column in the New York Times titled: “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive.”

Schwartz’s starting points are the counterintuitive reports from scholars and scientists in recent years that suggest working harder, longer, and more is actually less productive (and less healthy, duh) than striking a balance that values rest, vacation, exercise, and sleep as much as hours in the office, emails answered, and the like. He contends that this applies on the macro level, such as the need to sleep more each night and take more and lengthier vacations throughout the year, as well as on the micro level, such as the cycle of work habits throughout the day.

I thought of Rahner because among his more philosophically complex engagements with the theological tradition, the German theologian was also interested in exploring the theological significance of what he called Alltägliche Dinge or “everyday things.” Among these everyday things were subjects like work, walking, seeing, laughing, eating, and — you’ve guessed it! — sleep. Rahner asks:

Is there such a thing as a theology of sleeping? Most certainly there is. In a wonderfully earthy way, scripture first of all confirms our own experience with sleep: It talks about the solid sleep of the one who has worked hard, the destructive sleeplessness of the one in charge of many things, the excessive sleep of the lazy one, and similar things. But scripture also sees in sleep an image and reflection of a deeper reality of human existence: the image of death, the image of dead and deadening dullness, the image of being mired in sin. Also, scripture sees in sleep an inner relaxation, where a person is receptive to the instructions of God (as if given by the Lord in one’s sleep), a time for meaningful dreams that can clarify God’s directions and call and that can perhaps make one conscious of what is otherwise repressed.

Surely Rahner is correct — Matthew’s account of the Gospel practically begins the whole story of Jesus Christ with sleep and dreams as we read that Mary’s husband “Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him an a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit'” (Matt 1:19-20).

Likewise, we know of Joseph’s role in interpreting the Pharaoh’s dreams in Egypt and the ways in which dreams and sleep intertwine at various points in both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

Rahner explains that it’s not all about dreams and visions, but that the simple, human, and necessary physiological exercise of sleep is itself a religious and spiritual practice. He wrote:

Sleep is an act of trusting one’ deepest inner conviction, one’s own certainty, and the goodness of the human world. It is an act of innocence and of consenting to the elusive.  If one approached sleep like that, not as a merely dull succumbing to physiological mechanisms but as an agreeable and trusting acceptance of an utterly human act, then falling asleep could be seen as relating to the inner structure of prayer, which is equally a letting-go, an entrusting of one’s own convictions to the providence of God which one lovingly accepts.

In other words, it is about awareness and surrender, about trust and recognizing the presence of God in our lives at all times, in all places and, as Ignatius Loyola made popular, “in all things.”

Rahner’s notion of sleep was elicited by Schwartz’s column because there is an overlap and complementarity in their respective points — Schwartz from a physiological and productivity standpoint, and Rahner from one of theology and spirituality.

Rahner pointed out that, “sleep is peaceful and relaxed, a communication with the depth in which needs to be grounded and rooted whatever makes us free as human beings, all conscious planning of life, if we want to remain whole or wish to be.”

Schwartz says something very similar, if in a different way.

Our basic idea is that the energy employees bring to their jobs is far more important in terms of the value of their work than is the number of hours they work. By managing energy more skillfully, it’s possible to get more done, in less time, more sustainably. In a decade, no one has ever chosen to leave the company. Our secret is simple — and generally applicable. When we’re renewing, we’re truly renewing, so when we’re working, we can really work.

He gives an example from his own professional life of how balance and a different approach to work, centered on valuing rest, sleep, and renewal along the way. He talks about the experience of writing his first two books and then his more recent publications and the difference that switching from a “binge” mentality of unbridled work (something I see far too often in academia with colleagues, as well as studious undergrads, spending endless hours and even days/nights in libraries and in front of computers) to a sense of a cycle for awake-activity akin to that of our sleep cycles. In other words: working in cycles of ninety-minute intervals. Schwartz explains:

I’ve systematically built these principles into the way I write. For my first three books, I sat at my desk for up 10 hours a day. Each of the books took me at least a year to write. For my two most recent books, I wrote in three uninterrupted 90-minute sessions — beginning first thing in the morning, when my energy was highest — and took a break after each one.

Along the way, I learned that it’s not how long, but how well, you renew that matters most in terms of performance. Even renewal requires practice. The more rapidly and deeply I learned to quiet my mind and relax my body, the more restored I felt afterward. For one of the breaks, I ran. This generated mental and emotional renewal, but also turned out to be a time in which some of my best ideas came to me, unbidden. Writing just four and half hours a day, I completed both books in less than six months and spent my afternoons on less demanding work.

What he says resonates well with me. I’m often asked “How do you do so much? Do you ever sleep?” and my instant response is always, “Yes, I sleep quite a lot, actually!” The presumption on the part of the inquirer being that in order to “get a lot done” one must work all the time and through the night, and so on and so on.

That “sleep quite a lot” is, of course, relative. I know that I need at least seven hours of sleep a night and I work hard to make sure that I get it. More sleep makes me tired, less sleep makes me tired. I also never work nonstop for hours on end, nor have I ever. This is not some sort of prescient virtue, rather it’s just not something I have ever had the patience to do, even if I wanted to do it. This is why I found Schwartz’s narrative and supportive data so affirming — I’ve been accidentally doing what he’s talking about here for most of my life.

Working in short spurts of an hour here or 90-minutes there and the accompanying breaks, not so regimented but more naturally present, might be the way to explain my own experience. Until reading this column, I’m not sure I had a good answer to the question “How do you get so much done?”

I think there is a curious connection here between the theological reflection of Rahner on sleep and Schwartz’s proposal about rest and productivity. If we live in a graced world where we are always already in communication with the God who is the ground of our very being, perhaps the Benedictines have it a little off. Their traditional motto has been Ora et Labora, which essentially means balancing one’s life between “prayer and work.”

But, what if, following Rahner and Schwartz, the real motto of our lives should be striving to recognize that the Ora comes in the balance between Operis et quietis, “work and rest.”

Photo: Stock

Theology and the Priority of Prayer

Posted in Franciscan Spirituality, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on January 28, 2013 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

st anthony apparition of st francisThere are times when theology can just be work.

Toward the end of Francis of Assisi’s life there was an increasing need among the early brothers for some sort of formal education. The friars were preaching and responding to the pastoral needs of people throughout Europe, a ministry that required some grounding in the theology of the church. Anthony of Padua, a learned man and well-known preacher, was invited by some of his brother friars to help instruct them in doctrine, scripture, canon law, and theology.

Anthony knew that Francis was not generally a fan of what we might anachronistically call “higher education” for the brothers. His concern was that education was often a means for distinction, a sense of superiority, and a means toward lording over others. Sometime after 1223 Anthony wrote to Francis to seek his blessing to accept the task that his brother friars had placed upon him. And Francis, it seems, changed his mind. The Poverello wrote to Anthony:

Brother Francis sends greetings to Brother Anthony, my Bishop. I am pleased that you teach sacred theology to the brothers providing that, as is contained in the Rule, you “do not extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion” during study of this kind.

On one hand it could seem as though Francis did indeed change his mind, now granting an exception for the study of theology within the community. Yet, it might also be seen as Francis’s simple return to the Rule itself, which he cites in this note. In the Rule Francis talks about how the brothers are to work, provided what they do is not intrinsically sinful (no friar should be an assassin, for example) and that whatever the brothers do does not “extinguish the Spirit of prayer and devotion.”

In other words, Francis ultimately recognized the validity of study in general and of theology more specifically as a form of work compatible with what had become the “Franciscan way of life.” But, just as was true for those friars primarily engaged in ordained sacramental ministry or those friars who worked in leper hospices, friars who were students and professors of theology were to always keep prayer their priority.

There is a great lesson for us today in the wisdom of a brief eight-hundred-year-old letter from one of the world’s most famous Christians to another of the world’s most famous Christians: whatever we do should take second place to how we live. If we find that our work is interfering with the priority of prayer and the spirit of devotion, perhaps we need to reevaluate what it is we are doing, or at least how we are going about doing it.

Do we consider the relationship between our work and our spiritual lives? Do we recognize that we are all called to prioritize the “Spirit of prayer and devotion?”

An interesting thing about the mendicant orders, especially the Franciscans, is that their way of life is modeled in such a way as to foster life with and among ordinary people. Perhaps this is why the Franciscans have remained so popular, even to this day. The wisdom of not letting one’s work or one’s ambition or one’s personal desires or even one’s will to do good for others get in the way of recalling that all things come from and should return to God is a message not only for women and men in professed religious life, but for all Christians and all people of good will.

What if we lived in such a way that our prayer was our priority, that we allowed our whole lives to reflect a spirit of prayer and devotion?

Returning to Francis’s blessing and caution to Anthony, I am grateful for what these two brothers of mine in religious life and faith have passed on to us. As someone who studies theology and whose work is often of an academic nature, the reminder to maintain my spirit of prayer and devotion as priority is key. My attitude toward this work of theology can also, however, reflect that spirit of prayer and devotion. And that is what St. Bonaventure meant in his understanding of the discipline of theology, an understanding captured succinctly in the title of Greg LaNave’s book about the nature of Bonaventure’s theology: “Through Holiness to Wisdom.”

There are times when theology can just be work. And there are other times when theology, like all work, can be the path towards holiness and wisdom.

Photo: File

Dating God Podcast #17 — Stephen Martin: Vocation and the ‘Messy Quest’

Posted in Dating God Podcast with tags , , , , , , on September 30, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

In this episode of the Dating God Podcast we welcome author Stephen Martin who talks about his book The Messy Quest for Meaning: Five Catholic Practices for Finding your Vocation (Sorin Books, 2012). The book, which has it’s own Franciscan connection as you’ll hear, focuses on the place of vocation in the lives of all Christians and Martin draws on what he calls 5 practices, largely inspired by the Catholic monastic tradition, to help guide today’s Christians on their own “messy quest” to discover their vocations. Additionally, there are two news items including the release of Dan Horan’s latest book, Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith (Tau Publishing, 2012), and a public lecture this week at Hilbert College in Buffalo, NY, titled, “How to ‘Prophet’ from the Franciscan Tradition: Solidarity and Christian Living in the 21st Century.”

Listen to the podcast online (streaming)

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Special Labor Day Edition of the Dating God Podcast!

Posted in Dating God Podcast with tags , , , , , , , on September 3, 2012 by Daniel P. Horan, OFM

This is a special “Labor Day” edition of the Dating God Podcast that features Daniel P. Horan, OFM, discussing (1) a Franciscan approach to Labor Day and the role that work had in the Franciscan spiritual tradition, beginning with Francis of Assisi; and (2) his new book, Franciscan Priesthood: The Possibility of Franciscan Presbyters According to the Rule and Tradition (Check it out on Paperback and Kindle). Enjoy this episode of the podcast while enjoying this day dedicated to work and workers!

Listen to the podcast online (streaming)

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes (iTunes website)


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