Friday, May 23, 2008

Ora et labora

by John D Ramsey

A couple years ago, after I had begun writing For Your Names’ Sake, I was explaining to Claire the meaning of her name. Claire means “bright” or “shining one”. Maddison means “warrior”. Claire paused to absorb that for a minute and then asked, “What does Ramsey mean?” I explained to her that Ramsey was a surname. She asked again, “But what does it mean?” I told her that the Ramseys originally had come from Scotland, but that our family had been in the United States for a long time. She was not satisfied, “What does it mean?”

The only Ramseys I know hail from Jamesport, Missouri. I am told that we came by way of Virginia sometime in the nineteenth century. Whatever our connection to the Isle, it was lost to the wind many years ago. We are not much of a clan. In six generations there has been only one male heir in this branch of the Ramseys. Half of those are still living: my father, my son, and me. We are not many, nor are we very Scottish. We do not wear kilts, drink Scotch whiskey, or play bagpipes. I do remember walking across the Capitol Mall in St. Paul while the pipers were practicing. It was a wonderful sound. Still, the sound of bagpipes does not awaken any ancient memory within my soul.

Scotland casts an invisible shadow upon me now. I do not see the influence of my Norman or Celtic ancestors in my daily life. I am who I am without pride or shame of whence I have come, but my contentment did not extinguish Claire's curiosity.

We sat down with Google to learn the history of the Ramseys. As we read about the clan, so removed from us by space and time, suddenly something looked familiar, Ora et Labora. I double-checked with an online Latin to English translator, and immediately I realized: I know what “Ramsey” means. Ora et Labora describes my father perfectly. Three thousand words could not describe him better than this simple Latin phrase which means “Pray and work.” English translations of Ora et Labora might read, “work and pray”. They do this because it sounds better to end a phrase with an open-mouth vowel than to end it with a guttural consonant; nevertheless, “pray and work” best describes my dad.

I showed Claire the Ramsey crest and told her, “Ramsey means ‘pray and work.’”

With or without the Latin, my dad prays and works. He is retired now. He has been retired for over a decade, but he is not idle. Retirement means that Social Security pays Dad a little bit to do the work he would be doing anyway. He preaches every Sunday morning at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church between Trenton and Bethany, Missouri. On Sunday evening, he teaches at Olive Baptist Church down the road from Mom and Dad's house. On Monday morning, he meets with area pastors for a prayer breakfast. They pray together and then he teaches them. On Wednesday evening, Mom and Dad are back at Olive for prayer meeting.

Dad does not wait for meetings to pray. He maintains a list of prayer requests on his laptop and synchronizes it to his Palm TX. He carries the Palm with him nearly everywhere. His Palm has Bible software installed, too. When Dad is not praying, or studying, or teaching, he is mowing, cooking, or cleaning. Dad has also recently begun shuttling his Amish neighbors on trips too distant for horse and buggy. They repay him generously in a neighborly fashion. When Dad is waiting for his neighbor at the doctor’s office or chiropractic clinic, he takes out his Palm TX and opens his prayer request list. He prays for people in the local churches in which he serves. He prays for his children and his grandchildren. If he finishes praying, he reads the Bible until it occurs to him to pray again.

When the Ramseys from several hundred years ago encapsulated their most valued character qualities into the simple phrase, Ora et Labora, they must have been thinking forward to my Dad. Surely, even if they were not thinking of Dad, they still wanted future generations to know what it meant to be a Ramsey. Their world became a better place when they did two things: pray and work. Ora et Labora was a blessing they handed down through the generations. Among my clan it resonates louder than bagpipes.

Claire Maddison Ramsey, take a moment to reflect upon the blessing of your name. You are a bright and shining warrior in prayer and work.

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