It wasn’t my idea. Becoming a Benedictine Oblate was nothing I planned. But then neither was becoming a Roman Catholic or any of the most important decisions of my life, for that matter. For so many of them, they just ‘happened.
But that was before I understood the power of what Benedictine monk Brother Jerome Leo terms ‘divine sneakiness.’ I smile each time I think of his phrase for it embodies all the mystery, mysticism and comedy of close friendship with this God we can never understand.
I first purchased The Rule of Benedict while becoming Catholic at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Still Water, Massachusetts. Despite multiple attempts to read the small booklet containing the seventy-three chapters that make up the Rule, it made no sense to me. Benedict’s fifth century language was opaque, so dry as to desiccate on my lips as I silently tried to make sense of the words. Exactly like the words of the Bible that I decided to read from the beginning to end.
Little made any kind of rational sense during those early days of total immersion in all things religious: sacraments, the vocabulary of faith, the way everything had changed yet on the surface, looked the same as it always had. The life that had taken an abrupt 180-degree change in direction, steered by Something other than me felt both foreign yet so familiar that I perceived it as home, for the first time.
Four years after my conversion to Catholicism, we moved to Nevada. And over the course of the next couple of years, I realized that without structure, framework and or system, I could not progress in this faith I loved. During the year of discernment required to become and Oblate, I found the order that I sought in praying the Liturgy of the Hours. And made my oblation with a group of northern Nevada women affiliated with the Benedictine Monastery of Bristow Virginia.
There are way more than three reasons that I love being a Benedictine Oblate. But when writing, brevity, coherence and clarity rule. Consequently, here are the top three:
To accomplish anything of significance, most of us need structure, order, a map. Especially so for those ethereal things like prayer that can so readily be treated as trivial, postponed or ignored altogether.
The promises of the Oblate are simple-deceptively so:
- Stability of Heart - This promise expresses the oblate's commitment to a particular monastic community. Stability of heart reaffirms the basic promise of conversion made at baptism.
- Fidelity to the Spirit of Monastic Life - This promise expresses a commitment to live a life of spirituality, piety and balance.
- Obedience to the Will of God - This is a promise to grow in discernment of God's will through prayer, spiritual direction and faithfulness to one's religious traditions. Obedience is not a series of acts grudgingly done, but the response of a willing heart in service to God.
- We commit to pray the Liturgy of the Hours in the morning, evening and night. Beautiful, timeless prayers that, over time, become fueled with our souls.
- And to using the ancient practice of lectio divina to open our souls to God’s message for us through scripture.
- We also read from the Rule of Benedict each day.
- Since Benedictine Oblates are from many traditions, not just Catholic, we commit to fulfilling our denominational responsibilities.
The concept of stability attracted me when I first learned about a use that was foreign to me. A few years ago, in another piece, I wrote these words: Because we know that real stability means death, for that is the only state where we achieve a state of changelessness, we seek a place of permanence...where we can stay, there is a deep hunger for such a place. The Desert Fathers write: "Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything."
In Benedict’s Prologue are some of the most lyrically phrased words I have ever read.
Gentle. Loving. Comforting. Consoling. Like the words of...well, a father:
LI S T E N carefully, my child,
to your master's precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20).
Receive willingly and carry out effectively
your loving father's advice,
that by the labor of obedience
you may return to Him
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.
To you, therefore, my words are now addressed,
whoever you may be,
who are renouncing your own will
to do battle under the Lord Christ, the true King,
and are taking up the strong, bright weapons of obedience.
And first of all,
whatever good work you begin to do,
beg of Him with most earnest prayer to perfect it,
that He who has now deigned to count us among His children
may not at any time be grieved by our evil deeds.
For we must always so serve Him
with the good things He has given us,
that He will never as an angry Father disinherit His children,
nor ever as a dread Lord, provoked by our evil actions,
deliver us to everlasting punishment
as wicked servants who would not follow Him to glory.
Divine sneakiness indeed.