Prayer, Justice, and Building a Cathedral

"Two stonecutters are asked what they're doing. One responds, 'I am cutting this stone in a perfectly square shape.' The other responds, 'I am building a cathedral.'" 

What are you doing? How would you answer? This story, shared by educational theorist Etienne Wenger, reveals a vast gulf between two ways of seeing and, ultimately, two ways of being.

For myself, I think about my practice of prayer. When I am taking time to pray each day, what I am doing? If I'm Stonecutter #1, I can only see today's prayer, who's in it, how much time it takes, how comprehensive it is or isn't, and how I feel directly afterward. "Am I praying well?" is the anxious question of Stonecutter #1. 

But if I'm Stonecutter #2, I'm building a cathedral. I'm building, or rather God is building me into, the kind of person who is not anxious about anything, who is honest with failure and sadness, who is grateful to the Giver for every small delight, and who is capable of resting without feeling restless. It won't happen over night. But prayer by prayer, day by day, year by year, it will. 

Or think about the work you do in the community. Stonecutter #1 answers the question, "What are you doing?" by saying, "I'm holding a rally." Or, "I'm mentoring a young person." Or, "I'm going to a Ceasefire Night Walk in East Oakland."

But Stonecutter #2 sees the bigger picture. She sees that she is transforming systems that are keeping people in chains. She is empowering a young person to be an empowering presence in her community. She is reducing the number of families who have to grieve the death or incarceration of a child, brother, father, sister, or mother due to gun violence. She is building a cathedral. That is worth doing. That is worth inviting others into. That is worth every ounce of energy and time you put into it.

Imagine a cathedral-life built on daily-hewn stones of prayer and justice. Is that worth your time? Can you see what you're building?




(Note: This story was found in James K.A. Smith's recent book, You Are What You Love, a book that I highly recommend.)