Beauty has been a gentle guide as I prepare for an upcoming oblate retreat later next month.
Weekends are especially contemplative as we go into “retreat-preparation mode.” We practice lectio divina and silence. My wife and I had a little humorous thought — no matter what happens at the retreat, we have already created our own spiritual retreat during the past few weeks.
Monday, September 29, 2008
Friday, September 26, 2008
Want a retreat for quiet and spiritual peace?
Many monasteries welcome guests and/or have retreat programs. Welcoming visitors as Christ is part of the Rule of St. Benedict (Chapter 53). The person responsible for 1) guests and 2) retreats is often called the Guestmaster at Benedictine monasteries.
I have had experience with only one monastery, but I think that many monasteries have flexible and accommodating approaches to being a guest or attending a retreat.
Fall is here, what a great time for a guest visit or retreat at a monastery. You might find a place right near you in the following list of lists.
1. Benedictine Retreat Centers
3. Order of Saint Benedict Retreat Centers
4. RetreatFinder.com — List of Benedictine Retreats
5. Lists of religious orders. You might also find more — out of the way — retreats by finding a monastery or group near where you live by using this alternate list:
+ Order of St. Benedict Confederation, or
+ Anglican Benedictines, or
+ Camaldolese Hermits of Monte Corona, or
+ The Carthusians (hermits), or
+ The Cistercians and Trappists, or
+ The Friends of St. Benedict, or
+ The Lay Community of Saint Benedict, or
+ Orthodox Monasteries and Monasticism
6. The wider circle of spiritual retreats. If your circle of interests extends beyond the Benedictine, you might find a spiritual retreat at “Find the Divine” which has a large list of other forms of spiritual retreats as well. My wife and I can trace our path to becoming Benedictine oblates through some private retreats we planned on our own at nonreligious places of tranquility.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
I move between two views about whether I should describe my oblate life to people who know little about this ancient Christian manner of living -- ie praying the Psalms at various times in the day, a practice that goes back about 2,800 years to the Jews in the time of Temple.
On one hand, there’s a part of me that thinks “gosh, everyone will want to be an oblate once they learn about it.”
But on the other, I also know that there are many other charisms (gifts and ministries of the Holy Spirit) created by God. These different gifts are essential for the full flowering of the Church and maybe I should just leave people alone to see if they will discover an oblate program somewhere.
I tend to the first view (yes, you too will love being an oblate and with your order you'll receive a set of Ginsu Knives!) because I see many people on the Internet interested in a deeper spirituality.
Further, I sometimes think that people who are not familiar with monasticism in general might have a stereotyped and incorrect view that monasticism is rigid austerity -- when in fact it is a fountain of spirituality.
Oblates are not monks or nuns, but the monastic principles guiding the lives of monks and nuns, are similar to how oblates try to live in the world. Thus, if you have an idea of the monastic gifts lived by monks and nuns, you will have a glimpse into the life of an oblate, but on a much different scale.
Here is the best short video about the monastic life of one group of Benedictine nuns. The video was produced by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration.
I am going on a weekend retreat at a Catholic Benedictine monastery, and I have been focusing on beauty as the main part of my preparation.
Over the weekend, I did a little research on natural moral law in the Catholic Catechism (the 900-page version). I bought the Catholic Catechism and the 2006 Compendium (200 pages) about 18 months ago, but never looked at the Compendium until this past weekend. I also enjoy a wonderfully feature-packed online catechism.
This weekend I discovered that the Compendium “contains, in concise form, all the essential and fundamental elements of the Catholic faith...”
The Compendium was begun under John Paul II by a Commission of Cardinals led by Cardinal Ratzinger.
In June 2005, Pope Benedict XVI approved the Compendium for publication, just two months after becoming Pope in April 2005.
Thus, the Compendium is not a supplement as I originally thought when I bought it — it’s the Catholic Catechism in 200 rather than 900 pages.
But, my Big Discovery of the weekend was not about natural moral law — or even in learning what the Compendium was. I discovered with great astonishment that the concise Compendium included 14 pages of beautiful art in its slim 200 pages.
So, while the Ratzinger-led group had no problem in removing 700 pages of words, it also felt that the remaining 200 pages of words needed to include 14 pictures of well-known icons and paintings — beauty that surely speaks about Catholic faith.
And, not only are there the 14 pages of art, each icon (Footnote) or painting is also accompanied by a page of explanation.
Over the weekend I began a short study of natural moral law, but ended up reading about beauty as a description of the Catholic faith — back on track in preparation for my retreat.
Also over the weekend, I watched the Journey Home TV program on EWTN about an Anglican priest who became Catholic. During the program, the priest said that Cardinal Ratzinger said art and the Saints were the greatest Christian apologetics (explanations and defenses of the faith) for him.
It became illuminated to me, beauty is part of a description of the essential and fundamental elements of the Catholic faith. At least the Pope says so, and the Catholic Catechism implements this truth.
I do not think it was a coincidence that the Compendium (a book that I had not looked at since getting it 18 months ago) was the book I began to read over the weekend to check out information on natural moral law, only to discover that the Compendium was relatively jam-packed with beautiful art.
It was not a coincidence that the Journey Home TV program contained a quote from Cardinal Ratzinger telling me about the prominent place of art/beauty in apologetics — all helping to increase my understanding of the correct place of beauty in the Catholic faith as I prepare for my retreat.
Interestingly, the very first work of art in the Compendium is an Orthodox icon and there is also a Coptic Icon that introduces the section on prayer. Oh, sure, Ratzinger’s group couldn’t find 14 suitable paintings in the Vatican’s museums. If a picture is worth a thousand words, I think we are receiving a ten-thousand word message in those particular selections of icons from the Orthodox and Coptic churches.
Of course, it could be just a coincidence — a selection of art that just happened by chance, after all, isn’t art just for decoration, a style or fashion?
An icon similar to the Orthodox icon that leads off the Compendium can be seen here and here if you scroll down the page to Christ (Great Deesis) Dionysiou Monastery, 1542.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
Click on Picture to see Yahoo's message to me
I signed up at YahooBlogLog after I saw that the “Tales From the Cenobite — Within and Beyond” blog had signed up too.
It took me a long time to understand the Yahoo setup, but I muddled through and have a bare-bones YahooBlogLog.
OK, that’s the background.
Well, after I finished setting up my YahooBlogLog and I was becoming more familiar with the Yahoo concept of a BlogLog, I decided I would expand my envelope at bit and see what other things I could do with the YahooBlogLog. I put in all my “Tags” and “labels” so people could find this Oblate blog and the Oblate Spring web site. Then I saw a link where Yahoo says I could locate friends on Yahoo. That typically means, I have come to learn, finding other people on that particular Internet service who have similar interests, and sometimes it is difficult to share information with people unless they are “your friend.”
All that is OK, so I clicked on the Yahoo “find friends” button and received the message back “Sorry, we couldn’t find any friends for you.” Oh, that is just great, but how very monastic!
Thank you Yahoo.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Rest on the Flight into Egypt
[Click pictures to enlarge]
The "Rest on the Flight into Egypt," is the 1879 painting by Luc Olivier Merson. I mentioned the painting at the very end of my last blog which was about focusing on beauty as preparation for an upcoming oblate retreat.
As I studied "Rest on the Flight into Egypt" I remembered Pope Benedict XVI’s own masterpiece work of art: his recent address to representatives from the world of culture, Collège des Bernardins, Paris, Friday, 12 September 2008. The Pope said:
“From the perspective of monasticism’s historical influence [on European culture], we could say that, amid the great cultural upheaval resulting from migrations of peoples and the emerging new political configurations, the monasteries were the places where the treasures of ancient culture survived, and where at the same time a new culture slowly took shape out of the old. But how did it happen? ... First and foremost, it must be frankly admitted straight away that it was not their intention to create a culture nor even to preserve a culture from the past. Their motivation was much more basic. Their goal was: quaerere Deum [seeking God]. Amid the confusion of the times, in which nothing seemed permanent, they wanted to do the essential ...
“They were searching for God. They wanted to go from the inessential to the essential, to the only truly important and reliable thing there is. .... “They were seeking the definitive behind the provisional. Quaerere Deum: because they were Christians, this was not an expedition into a trackless wilderness, a search leading them into total darkness. God himself had provided signposts, indeed he had marked out a path which was theirs to find and to follow.”
To me, Pope Benedict XVI described the "Rest on the Flight into Egypt." The painting reveals the same story — Mary and Joseph were treasuring the definitive beyond the provisional of this world. They preserved the eternal Truth from Herod’s tyrannical savagery.
We should not see Mary and Joseph in a barren desert. They are in total rest — in total peace. They were following signposts by the light that is God. Monasteries did the same thing and it created beauty in the parched soul of Europe.
Monday, September 15, 2008
[Click picture to enlarge]
I am preparing for an annual oblate retreat by focusing on beauty. I hope it will help fix my attention on peace and truth — two of beauty’s closest companions.
Recently, I came across Henry Ossawa Tanner's “The Annunciation.”
I do not know any of the most famous Annunciation works, either painting or sculpture, so I do not know where Tanner’s 1898 version ranks with art experts, but it has made a lasting impression on me. I am like the person on a Catholic message board who posted the painting and then said that, she/he could not think about the annunciation without Tanner’s painting of the scene coming to mind.
I began to read up on Tanner and discovered that Tanner was the most famous artist of African descent in the last part of the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries. He was a member of the realist school and is known for his religious paintings.
He was the son of an affluent African Methodist Episcopal minister and was born in Pittsburgh, in the state of Pennsylvania, USA, but moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania when he was 9.
His middle name is from Ossawatomie, the nickname of abolitionist John Brown.
Tanner received a good education in art at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art. And "The Annunciation" is housed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.
Tanner spent most of his adult life living in Europe where he became recognized internationally for his religious paintings.
Tanner’s wife was the model for Mary in “The Annunciation.”
I was glad that I read about this artist I had never heard of before. "The Annunciation" took on more significance for me when I learned about the artist and the model.
In my reading of Internet resources about Tanner and “The Annunciation,” I eventually stumbled across a meditation poem someone had written about the painting. The poem is published in “America,” (National Catholic Weekly), March 31, 2008 edition:
“Yet you do not blink.
In the intimacy of a bedchamber
Your soul is awakened from sleep,
Fragile flesh before angelic brilliance.
Your rumpled night sheets tossed aside,
You listen in peace with your whole self
To the question that will define history.
Holding its breath for your answer,
All heaven pauses.
“LET IT BE DONE TO ME…”
Here it begins.
In such utter simplicity,
In quiet strength, at the appointed hour,
With the rippled rungs of time at your feet,
And the broad lines of history at your back.
At the balance of His grace in your will,
Eve reborn, humanity to be redeemed
Through a child, from a virgin
Whose name is Mary.”
That poem was just what I needed to help me prepare for my oblate retreat. And there it is in the poem too — the themes of Peace and Truth.
After I read the poem, I read who wrote it — J. Michael Sparough, S.J., who is director of Charis Ministries, a center for retreats and spiritual direction for young adults in the Chicago area. So, the author of the poem is a director of — Retreats — how fitting.
A good overview of Tanner's works and life
A short summary of Tanner's Life
Overview of some of Tanner's other works
I told my wife about this blog and she said, let me show you something. She went to one of our china cabinets and pulled out a plate that she had purchased before we were married — it’s of the annunciation — not Tanner’s, but by another artist. What is surprising is that from the time before we were married I had no religious art and she had purchased only two items, and one was of the annunciation. In 1988 she bought an Eve Licea plate of the Annunciation [web site of company]. She said she fell in love with the beauty of the picture and bought it as her first piece of religious art. Picture of the Annunciation plate
About 8 years later she bought a copy of Luc Olivier Merson’s “Rest on the Flight into Egypt,” 1879.
“Rest on the Flight into Egypt” and a commentary on the painting by Kate Benedict.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
Some people find a foundation and structure for contemplative prayer in monastic practices described in some of the earliest Christian writings.
Major Third orders and lay groups are the:
Third Order Lay Franciscans,
Lay Carmelites - Third Order, T.O.C.s or T.O.Carm.s,
Secular Carmelites, Discalced Carmelite Secular Order, O.C.D.s, (1)
Fraternities of St. Dominic,
Norbertine Lay Associations,
Lay Missionaries of Charity,
and my favorite lay associates, Benedictine oblates.
My web site for people just starting to learn about Benedictine oblates is the Oblate Spring.
The lay associates such as Benedictine oblates are “regular” people who live in the world with jobs and spouses, don't wear special clothing, but who often practice Lectio Divina, for example, which is a commonly used method for contemplative prayer, and who also live by the principles of their Order/group as much as their state in life allows.
The association of contemplative prayer with monastic principles is not surprising. Author Mike Casey writes that long ago the term monastic applied to a broader group of people than we sometimes think of today.
Today some people may think of monastics as only monks and nuns who live cloistered lives separate from the rest of the world. In the first several centuries after the resurrection of Jesus, a monastic life also applied to Christians who lived in the world, but who sought a deeper spirituality in contemplative prayer and a more ascetic lifestyle.
In other words, those people today who pursue contemplative prayer in ancient monastic practices are following long-established traditions.
Here is a short video by the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration on Benedictine monastic practices. It is a beautiful, inspiring video. I recommend it to anyone seeking the contemplative life, even while you “keep your day job!”
There are about 2 million Third Order Franciscans, about 30,000 Third Order Carmelites, and about 25,000 Benedictine oblates in the world today.
As I find links to Third Orders and lay groups since the date of this blog, I will add them to a web page on the Oblate Spring web site. For a list of all the links I have found to Third Orders, please visit here.
There exist two traditions in the Carmelite community. The differences are described here, scroll down to the FAQs paragraph 7.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
I found the Byzantine Anglo-Catholic Blog recently.
The subheading of the Byzantine Anglo-Catholic Blog is “The interplay between Benedictine spirituality, high-church Anglicanism, and the hesychast tradition of Eastern Orthodoxy.”1
The author of the BAC blog listed the following parts Eastern Christian spirituality that have affected him the most, and he adds, at least up until now:
“— Theosis--theosis is the process of achieving union with God. It is a slow and gradual process and continues after death. It is done through prayer, reception of the sacraments, and participation in the life of the church. It is what Christianity is basically all about.
— The Jesus prayer--this is the underpinning of the Eastern Christian contemplative tradition, also referred to as hesychasm.1
— Icons--icons are not just pretty or inspiring pictures, but ways of connecting with God, Jesus, Mary, and the saints.
— Bells and smells--It's ok for the liturgy to be something of great aesthetic beauty, even if the aesthetic is very traditional. Arguably, worship of this sort is more conducive to contemplative prayer than even a well-done folk mass.
— Eschatology--God created the universe out of love, and he eventually wants to unite with it--but in a non-pantheistic way, let me stress. In the world to come, we will not only have resurrected physical bodies, but we will also live in a resurrected physical cosmos. This has obvious implications for how we treat each other, animals, and the environment in this life.”
I think I should know more about Eastern Orthodoxy, in part due to my interest in church unity, but mainly because of the East's contribution to monasticism in the West. I want to fully grasp the deep spirituality of the Catholic church. A place to begin looking through the glass clearly.
[See footnote 2 regarding the picture at the beginning of this blog.]
1. “The Greek word "hesychia" signifies peace, repose. The hesychast monks, besides various other spiritual exercises, uninterruptedly practiced the Jesus Prayer, that is, they continually repeated the words: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." Such praying not infrequently was accompanied by special bodily techniques, for example, by prostrations, by a bent over posture of the body while sitting, by rhythmical breathing.”
“Monks who had long practiced such prayer attained a lofty state of spirit, perceived the manifest grace-filled presence of God in their hearts and in a radical manner eliminated from their consciousness not only sinful, but all involuntary notions and feelings; they were wholly absorbed in contemplating God. The hesychast monks who were successful in this prayer not infrequently received gifts of prophetical clairvoyance, and they promoted the enlightenment of the people surrounding them and of those who resorted to their spiritual help. In a word, the influence of these monks, who lived mainly on Athos, [the spiritual center of Eastern Orthodoxy] was very powerful during the epoch of Gregory Palamas.”
Footnote 1 source
2. “The Wonderworking KURSK ROOT ICON of Our Mother of God of "The SIGN"
The picture at the first of this blog is from the Korennaya (Kursk Root) Hermitage in Kurst, Russia.
“In the 13th century, during the dreadful period of the Tartar invasion of Russia, the devastated province of Kursk was emptied of people and its principal city, Kursk, became a wilderness. Now, the residents of the city of Rylsk, which had been preserved from invasion, often journeyed to the site of Kursk to hunt wild beasts. One of the hunters, going along the bank of the river Skal, which-was not very far from ruined Kursk, noticed an icon lying face down on the ground next to the root of a tree. The hunter picked it up and found that it was an icon of the Sign, such as was enshrined and venerated in the city of Novgorod. At this time, the icon's first miracle was worked, for no sooner had the hunter picked up the sacred image than there immediately gushed forth with great force an abundant spring of pure water. This took place on September 8th in the year 1295.”
.... skipping ahead in the long long of the Kursk area and the Hermitage ...
“At the Battle of Kursk in 1943, Korennaya was an important head quarters of the Russian Army. There is a large WWII Memorial Museum located next to the Kursk Root Hermitage on land that used to be part of the monastery. It was used for the Generals underground bunkers. The Battle of Kursk is history's largest tank battle. The German army was defeated and their strategic initiative was lost forever. Shortly thereafter, the German South Army Group surrendered at Stalingrad. These defeats resulted in an eventual German retreat from Russia which was then closely pursued by the Red Army. The Red Army moved into Germany and captured Berlin on May 9, 1945. The Russian Military suffered an estimated 13,600,000 deaths in expelling the German invaders. ...
“Most all of the Hermitage buildings were neglected for 70+ years during the communist regime. Many repairs still need to be completed. A large building located straight across from the Main Monastery court yard is a solid building but is waiting for funds. During the soviet control of the Korennaya Hermitage, they tried to cover the Kursk Root Spring by filling the whole area with a cement cap but the Holy Spring Water would always find a way to escape and continue it's Holy Tradition since 1295. The communists also put guard dogs by the Holy Spring to keep all the people from using any of the Holy Spring Water and any of the monastery.”
Footnote 2 source
Sunday, September 7, 2008
I have been reading and rereading the 59 pages of "Saint John Cassian on Prayer," translated by A.M. Casiday.
I take the book with me when I work out. My wife and I try to get some exercise at LA Fitness a few times a week in the evening (LA Fitness is a chain of sports clubs). We walk on the treadmills and I also use a few pieces of exercise equipment. I always have to move the pin that controls how much weight is being lifted from something like 200 lbs to something more my level — usually 30 to 40 lbs.
I walk slowly on the treadmill and it allows me to read while walking. The Cassian book is small, it’s paperback and only 59 pages, so it is easy to hold in one hand while I am trying not to fall off the treadmill.
After exercising, we spend some time in the sauna and the Cassian book goes right on in there with me. Other small books I have taken into the sauna have had glue binding. And yes, after a good hot sauna, the pages of those books begin to separate and come loose. But the Cassian book is stapled with two fine staples. It seems to thrive in the dry heat. So, with Saint John Cassian on Prayer and the sauna it does not take too much imagination for me to think that I am in the Egyptian desert in 400 AD and listening to Abba Isaac teach on prayer.
If you only know one thing about St. John Cassian (360-435 AD) — it should be that John Cassian’s accounts and interpretations were important in the “transmission of the culture of Egyptian monasticism into the early medieval west.”
Thursday, September 4, 2008
I am past the break-in, trial period for my new set of tabbed card-stock dividers I made for “Benedictine Daily Prayer — A Short Breviary.” I love them. The new dividers are super, all the texts I want to read for each office are on the dividers, so once I open the book to a daily office and move the appropriate dividers to that location, there is NO MORE FLIPPING. I just read from the book or the handy card-stock dividers — wonderful.
It used to bother me that I would begin to read in Benedictine Daily Prayer only to have to stop and flip to some other place in the book. So, one of my major life annoyances has been eliminated. What’s next on my list, world peace? or maybe learning to put problems into perspective.
Monday, September 1, 2008
Recently someone asked how many of the hours (vigils, lauds, terce, sect, none, vespers, and compline, see example) do oblates typically pray/read/sing in a day — oblates with full-time jobs, spouses, children, etc?
I thought that I would estimate what I do — I have a full-time job and spouse and additional family responsibilities like many have. The purpose in providing this information is to perhaps correct impressions by those who are just becoming interested in oblate monasticism — “must I pray seven times a day?” Do they go around in monks’ cloaks? Do they live in the monastery? No and No and No.
It is not about numbers or what we wear.
So with that background — what are my numbers? Looking back on the last 100 days, and just estimating the offices I prayed, here is what I think I do:
20% of the days I read one office for the day.
50% of the days I read two offices for the day.
15% of the days I read three offices for the day.
6% of the days I read four offices for the day.
5% of the days I read five offices for the day.
3% of the days I read six offices for the day.
1% of the days I read seven offices for the day.
For most of the days when I read up to three offices it is vigils, lauds, and compline.
Everyone wisely advises that oblates should follow monastic practices as our state in life allows.
We should not to fret when we do not pray 150 Psalms each week.
Developing the monastic spirit and lifestyle — silence, lectio divina (slow prayerful reading of scripture or early church fathers), and simplicity — is what is desired.
For me, I use Benedictine Daily Prayer. And I also read daily from the Rule and frequently from the RB 1980, usually after the divine office. Everyone is so different in finding things that work.
Praying without ceasing is the goal — this means, more than a scorecard, a life centered on God and being at peace in His love during the day, or to paraphrase a quote from Saint Andrews Abbey (in the high desert of southern California):
OBLATES COMMIT THEMSELVES to a never-ending process of integration - a deepening of their awareness of and responsiveness to God through the practice of contemplative prayer. This ongoing process of integration is referred to in the Rule as conversatio morum, fidelity to the monastic lifestyle. It is the oblates' continuous consecration to God of the deepest parts of their selves and their lives.