To me one of the most compelling, and indicting, quotes from the Rule of St. Benedict is in Chapter 18. This chapter lays out which psalms are to be said at what times during the week. The chapter ends with:
For those monastics show themselves too lazy in the service to which they are vowed, who chant less than the Psalter with the customary canticles in the course of the week, whereas we read that our holy Fathers, strenuously fulfilled that task in a single day. May we, lukewarm as we are, perform it at least in a whole week!
Such a prayer challenge may seem well and good for 1500 years ago, but we might easily dismiss it as out of step with modern life. After all, if we do both Morning and Evening Prayer according to the Episcopal lectionary, we get through the psalms every seven weeks. But Christian Schwarz of Natural Church Development, in his very rigorous research on church health and growth, found that when church leaders prayed 90 minutes or more a day, their groups grew twice as often as those whose leaders prayed 30 minutes or less a day. Prayer didn’t guarantee results, but people who took prayer seriously found whatever they were leading growing more often, whether a congregation, a Bible study, or an outreach project. Really, this power in prayer shouldn’t surprise us.
Benedictine monks were steeped daily in God’s promises found in the psalms, expressed in the language of deepest human emotion. They were led to preserve Western learning, improve farming, and re-evangelize Europe. If we harbor similar hopes for ourselves and our communities, our prayer life needs to have a similar quality and quantity.
We need to look at what we want to God to accomplish around us. Turn around dying congregations. Plant new churches. Revitalize mainline denominations. See the lame run, the blind see, and the good news preached to the poor. Preach the gospel in Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, including the ends of the earth down the street from us. With these dreams, we need to challenge ourselves honestly with the quantity and quality of prayer needed to open the floodgates of heaven, and be together with one another in prayer at that level. As this prayer is happening in various communities, God is showing up and amazing things are happening. May we, lukewarm as we are, do the same, and see God do more than we can ask or imagine in us, around us, and through us.