Instead of lectio this morning, I decided to visit the oblate blog and noticed a theme stretching across both Ric’s account of Abbot General Notker Wolf’s reflections at an international oblate gathering, and Sister Ruth’s reflections on inserting a verse about the whole earth belonging to God into her reading of a psalm. That theme is both challenge and promise: the challenge of living in a world of innumerable sufferings with a regular sense of the presence of God.
How do we learn to regularly access what Sister Ruth describes as the energy of the goodness of God? Clearly prayer, lectio with the psalms, and reflection on our lives in light of the rule are all part of this (the psalms being tricky, of course, for they shed light on the world and our hearts in all their rocky and smooth faces–and show the many-sidedness of God’s own presence as well).
In Atlanta for a conference recently, I shared a meal with one of my favorite human beings (and ex-husband), who used to chair the theology department at a Benedictine university (he is a Christian Unitarian, and has a new job that allows him to help develop the liberal theological tradition of Unitarians). He asked me if I was still involved with oblates, and he laughed when I said that it’s hard without a community to keep the utensils clean. I said what I said in a recent blog: oblates, especially those without a communal family life at home, rarely live in a structured setting that really lets them live the rule. I don’t think anyone–Benedictine or oblate–should idealize oblates as THE future of Benedictinism for this very reason. We need to see the witness of those vowed to communal monastic life if we are to help carry the witness of the rule in our own echoing ways.
But I think both Father Notker and Sister Ruth have named the heart of what we oblates can seek to do, to open up, in our own journey with the rule and with prayer–even those of us who do not live close enough to a monastery to visit it more than once or twice a year.
It begins really with this image of practicing the presence of God that contemporary Benedictines highlight over and over. It’s a stance of attentiveness that doesn’t look away from the world, but witnesses another dimension to it, overlapping and juxtaposed with and running through everything, a dimension of God’s goodness and glory in intimate display, in gestures we can sometimes at best half-glimpse.
Benedictines (and oblates) are hardly alone in such witnessing; it is the witness indeed of Jews, Christians, Muslims, and many others; but the Benedictine rule or way and the accompaniment of those who seek to follow it opens up that window of witnessing for some of us, a particular way of journeying in Jesus’ midst.
More thoughts another day on this accessing . . . but I welcome others’ insights about this in the meantime.