“We just don’t.”: Robert Benson on Prayer

A friend of mine called me today inquiring about a book I had recommended on Facebook. The book he was referring to was Robert Benson’s short and tremendously challenging and insightful In Constant Prayer. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it is by far one of my favorite books. I was quickly reminded of this as I flipped through it earlier today and came across this passage on the neglect of prayer:

“We who will get up and walk, or even run miles in the mornings, not to mention those of us who are not willing to wait for there to be enough light to see the bottom of the flag or for the frost to go away before we tee off; we who will haul ourselves through our neighborhoods in the dark to make sure that we have the box scores as quick as we can – for all kinds of reasons, including some good ones, I suppose, we will not, cannot, do not rise in the morning to greet the dawn with a song of praise on our lips, as did those who went before us.

We who will stay up late to watch the televised version of the news that we heard on our drive home at six, who will TiVo enough must-see television that we have to stay up late to keep up, who will not go to sleep without burning the candle at both ends and in the middle if we can figure out how to get it lit, will not end our days with praise and worship and confession and blessing.

We will not do these things in the name of love or discipline, devotion or worship. We will not even do it for selfish reasons, or even as a reliable way of self-actualization, to put it in its least favorable context- which, in our Western American, twenty-first century, self-help, and consumer-driven culture, is astonishing. And that includes some of us in certain communities of faith who made a promise to pray the office when we joined. Some of us did not even notice the promise we made at our confirmation, and the clergy do not point it out very often.

And if you believe the scholars and the media and the pundits who predict our increasing collective future irrelevance, then I am also a member of the generation that will preside over the death of the Church. Call it postmodern, call it post-Christian, call it Post Toasties if you want to, but there is a world out there that says we – the Church united, divided, militant, or otherwise – can do nothing to spread the gospel here on earth. Much less do anything to make each hour of the day or night any holier.

The witness of those who went before us is that we can. We just don’t.”

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