June 1, 2011

On Becoming an Oblate

Editor's Note: Greg Richardson participates on Twitters as @strategicmonk and writes about leadership, monasticism and revelry at his blog at Strategic Monk, a website that includes information about engaging in spiritual direction with him.

New Camaldoli Hermitage
I have become more deeply grounded in Benedictine spirituality over the last few years, and was received as a lay oblate at New Camaldoli Monastery and Hermitage near Big Sur, California last summer.

The overall arc of my faith journey includes a long-term movement toward more liturgical churches and a deepening contemplative awareness. I have moved around the United States, and participated in a number of churches in various denominations, as well as nondenominational groups.

After a friend invited me to visit an Episcopal church, I spent several years reading, visiting, praying and asking questions before being confirmed as an Episcopalian. The Episcopal and Anglican tradition have given me tremendous gifts, including introducing me to a deeper, more contemplative faith.  Contemplative practices such as centering prayer and lectio divina, and training and practice as a spiritual director, continue to feed my soul.

Several years ago, friends suggested I might be interested in Benedictine spirituality because they recognized my strong attraction to aspects of monastic life.  And so, I began to read, reflect, and pray about it, spending time in retreat at different monasteries.  Two books that made a big difference were How to Be Monastic and Not Leave Your Day Job by Brother Benet Tvedten (Reviewed for @Virtual_Abbey by Brenda Keller) and The Holy Way by Paula Huston, also a lay oblate at New Camaldoli.

What draws me to Benedictine life at a deep level is the practical, loving way Saint Benedict understood how people live and grow. The Rule of Saint Benedict begins with the word, “Listen.”  It’s filled with down-to-earth ways to give people opportunities to draw closer to God and to themselves. It lays out a clear and responsive framework for living, working, and praying together and it ends by explaining that it was written for beginners.

As I’ve read and learned more about Benedictine spirituality, I’ve come to recognize that many of the passions and values shaping my whole life have had a strong connection to those highlighted by Saint Benedict.  For example, he seems to be as concerned with good order, wise management, and the way people treat tools and each other, as with meditation and introspection.  His Rule is grounded in fairness and respect, working wisely and honestly; in being open to God in silence and rest.

As a lay oblate, I’m connected to the community at New Camaldoli, as well as to the larger Benedictine family. I pray morning and evening prayers with the brothers in Big Sur, and live by the other aspects of the Oblate Rule.  For example, the Oblate Rule recognizes the distinctive place of silence and solitude in the Camaldolese Benedictine tradition.  I do not have to retreat into the desert or wilderness, the Oblate Rule gives me the opportunity to seek silence and solitude supported by community.

While I tend not to be overly enthusiastic about “rules,” I have found a great deal of support and encouragement in the framework of the Rule of Saint Benedict, and the Oblate Rule.  The “Rules” are more like yardsticks that we can use to measure and understand ourselves, rather than regulations set out to constrict thought and action.

1 comment:

spirituallychallenged@wordpress.com said...

I love this post. I too am looking into trying to become a lay Benedictine :-)