Two Kinds of Balance

At an oblate meeting this week, I found myself wondering how we who are oblates often relate to the Benedictine way more as a beacon of light to gaze upon than as something that can take the measure of our own lives.

We who are oblates seek to live the Rule to the extent it can address our lives apart from a monastic environment. But what can living by a rule of moderation mean amid lives without the balance of prayer, work, and community that–presumably!–keeps monastic life more regularly sane in its shape?

I know the sisters can work too hard and long as well. I’m just dismayed by how many of us can know long periods when the dishes go undone for days, the house hasn’t been cleaned for months, and we begin to rely on frozen dinners and take-out meals, because cooking well demands Time — but so do all the other responsibilities that can dominate the evenings, days, and weekends of many with professional jobs that don’t end at the office door.

What does it mean to live the rule when there is no community of structured support and sustenance in our daily material lives? When there are no meals prepared by anyone other than oneself? (I am lucky to have a companion in town enough to cook one day a week–but even that hasn’t happened since June, since we’ve been caring for his mom two hours away–he more than I.)

Faithfulness to some kinds of work responsibilities means that for those of us not living in an intentional community organized to care well for home, body, and soul, we cannot keep well the rule’s concern for utensils and our material environment. Not when we are working 50-65+ hours a week. That workload can be balanced if someone else is cooking and cleaning for us, mowing the yard, doing the childcare if there are children.

But there is another side to balance, even if the day isn’t divided into livable chunks of work, prayer, reflection, community/family time. It’s more along the lines of a spirit of being with the wave of the ocean rolling under you just now, including all the turbulence felt about the undone commitments to others, oneself, one’s house.

Interior balance is not enough, nor should it be. Until we learn as a society to cut workloads for those who have endless projects or too many students (or whatever the case may be), a person living apart from a daily intentional community may find it difficult to lead a balanced life.

How do other oblates deal with the call of the Rule to a life of balance? Do you too find it’s at best some days about learning to dance on a spinning ball in the ocean? Or learning to sit quietly amid all the undone things, the utensils not cared for, the floor not swept, the 70 papers had now for over 2 weeks still not graded, the note not sent to the person who is ill . . . sit and work on one thing next, whatever thing seems best, acknowledging divine presence amid our genuine failures to keep up with our responsibilities?

The heart of balance is gravitating toward that divine presence, toward which the Rule points. The Rule can be for some of us more like a judgment than a guide some days . . . but we can still sense the goodness of its direction, even if we cannot meet its measure. And as a Lutheran, of course, I would have to add that our failure to meet its measure can become a gift that impels us to see that at least individually, we are unable to save ourselves. There is a grace in a broken Rule, as well as in the light of its guidance.

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2 thoughts on “Two Kinds of Balance

  1. Wow, Amy! You hit the nail on the head. My first question as an oblate was “how do I lead a Rule-directed life when the rest of my world isn’t?” (Although I am fortunate that Ric is my steady companion in the endeavor.) As I’ve let the Rule sink-in, it has slowly changed me from the inside-out. It is enough –at least for now– that my attitudes have developed and my behavior has followed. Also, I have had to accept that I don’t get to everything every day. I too have trouble being quiet in a messy room or staring at dishes. So, sometimes I have to catch-up. And, try to let it be a form of prayer.

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  2. I too let catch-up be a form of prayer. And I think your first question as an oblate sums up everything I was thinking when I tried to write about balance. Perhaps there’s a parallel between my concern among oblates and your concern at your church’s discussion group: how do we move from individual action to collective work together? How might oblates envision not only the barrier to living the rule outside a monastic community, but also imagine how we might create more structures of material and emotional support, either with one another or with our other networks of human connection?

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