Monday, June 30, 2008

How I got through a rough day. A Benedictine oblate blog

I use the book Benedictine Daily Prayer to pray the Divine Office. I do not do all of the hours each day, and there is seldom one day in a month that I have done all seven offices in a day. I know praying the Divine Office is not a race and it is not just a matter of keeping score. I do the best I can and don’t feel badly about the hours I miss.

Although I do feel MUCH better on the days when I do three or four of the Hours in a day, most often, if I have a jam-packed day, I get up and go straight to work and fall into bed late at night exhausted and without having prayed a single part of the Divine Office from the book Benedictine Daily Prayer.

Recently I had three days in a row in which I prayed three hours in a day and the following day was a day with a mighty full schedule. When I got up on that especially full day, I did not look forward to all the work and thought — this day I am not going to just fly into work until late in the evening, I am going to pray all seven of the offices because I know that I will accomplish more and feel much closer to God all day.

Of course you know that day was exactly as I thought. I was not nearly as tired as I am typically on those extra long days and I sure felt monastic!

Like stepping stones along a rushing river, the seven Divine Offices kept me moving toward God.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Vigils — Christ’s Office. A Benedictine oblate blog.

The defining and God-centering activity of my life as an oblate is praying the Divine Office during the day and during the night on those fairly rare occasions when I just wake up with a feeling that I must pray Vigils.

When I am suddenly awake in the middle of the night, I know it is for the purpose of praying Vigils.

Each office of the Liturgy of the Hours (or the Divine Office, or also called the Opus Dei --- the "work of God") has a personality all its own, but praying Vigils in our quiet and always-cool sunroom at 3:30 am is an experience that is different in kind from praying the other parts of the Liturgy of the Hours during the light of day or praying Compline at the close of day before bed.

Vigils is the part of the Divine Office that feels so close to Christ. This makes sense to me because the office of Vigils grew out of the Easter Vigil and its weekly remembrance each Sunday.

Originally Vigils was not a separate office at all, but was part of a Mass lasting all night. In some parts of the early Christian world, Vigils and the Mass were also used to remember Christ’s martyrs and Vigils was then held outside by their tombs.

Even though Vigils is now one of the seven parts of the Liturgy of the Hours, and several of the other hours grew out of Vigils, the night office of Vigils will be forever linked to the earliest Christian practices of celebrating the risen Christ, and by that distinction, Vigils will draw us close to Christ.

By the long tradition of Vigils and the call of a great cloud of witnesses, “On those nights it was meet that none should sleep, but watch and pray till dawn, awaiting the coming of the Lord.”

A good reason to wake up any night.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A Monastery Wall is a One-way Wall

The walls of a monastery are to keep the world out of the monastery, not to keep the monastery out of the world.

This one-way flow worked throughout much of the 1,500-year history of Benedictine monasticism, as civilization collapsed or was subject to frequent foreign raids, monasteries guarded the light of truth.

Education and knowledge spread out from the monasteries to rekindle civilization. When similar forces are working in the world today, monasteries are fulfilling their historic role.

The flow is out from the monastery. This can be seen in the large number of monasteries that have active oblate programs, in monasteries' involvement with education, in their use of the Internet, and in their expanded spiritual retreats (St. Leo Abbey in Florida, for example) that serve people from all religious backgrounds. Little wonder that the Pope called monasteries places of spiritual power.

Visit a Benedictine monastery — you will find they live by the Rule of St. Benedict —and you will be welcomed as Christ.* If you enter the gate of a monastery and find that you are changed more than you change the monastery, that’s OK, and that is probably why you came.


* Here is the reference in the Rule of St. Benedict to welcoming guests as Christ. This is the famous Benedictine hospitality:

Of the Reception of Guests

"Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ, because He will say: "I was a stranger and you took Me in" (Mt 25:35). And let due honor be shown to all, especially to those "of the household of the faith" (Gal 6:10) and to wayfarers."

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Pope and the Psalms

Pope Benedict XVI said the following during a meeting with representatives of other religions at the "Rotunda" Hall of the Pope John Paul II Cultural Center of Washington when he was in the USA in April 2008. His full statement is here.

"There is a further point I wish to touch upon here. I have noticed a growing interest among governments to sponsor programs intended to promote interreligious and intercultural dialogue. These are praiseworthy initiatives. At the same time, religious freedom, interreligious dialogue and faith-based education aim at something more than a consensus regarding ways to implement practical strategies for advancing peace. The broader purpose of dialogue is to discover the truth. What is the origin and destiny of mankind? What are good and evil? What awaits us at the end of our earthly existence? Only by addressing these deeper questions can we build a solid basis for the peace and security of the human family, for "wherever and whenever men and women are enlightened by the splendor of truth, they naturally set out on the path of peace" (Message for the 2006 World Day of Peace, 3)."

"We are living in an age when these questions are too often marginalized. Yet they can never be erased from the human heart. Throughout history, men and women have striven to articulate their restlessness with this passing world. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Psalms are full of such expressions: "My spirit is overwhelmed within me" (Ps 143:4; cf. Ps 6:6; 31:10; 32:3; 38:8; 77:3); "why are you cast down, my soul, why groan within me?" (Ps 42:5). The response is always one of faith: "Hope in God, I will praise him still; my Savior and my God" (Ps 42:5, 11; cf. Ps 43:5; 62:5).

Spiritual leaders have a special duty, and we might say competence, to place the deeper questions at the forefront of human consciousness, to reawaken mankind to the mystery of human existence, and to make space in a frenetic world for reflection and prayer."

The Liturgy of the Hours (an example is here) is an ancient way to consecrate our time and pray from the Psalms.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

For Benedictine oblates small acts are forever

The Benedictine life is ordered in a comfortable harmony of prayer, reading, and work.

When the entire day is set apart for the Lord, it easier to see why every part of the day, no matter how small, is essential to the whole. The day is built from those small acts.

A good day is not one big accomplishment while everything else is ignored, a good day is when all parts, each small task is done heartily for the Lord or for others.

Benedictines honor every tiny chore especially when done to help others. And long prayers when there is nothing else scheduled are not more meaningful than the one-word prayer (called a monologion) I say when I hear the big-ben clock chimes in the middle of my work. That monologion becomes part of my current project — it lives on.

Every kindness no matter how small has an eternal existence and takes its place as part of the kingdom of God.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Benedictine Balance

Benedictines sometimes talk about the Benedictine Balance. Most often Benedictine Balance is viewed (in somewhat of an oversimplification) as integrating work and prayer (ora et labora) into one mode of living.

Benedictine oblate and author Wil Derkse also notes that he believes Christians can be enriched by other beliefs. He said that "Buddhism, Taoism, [and] the environmental movement appear to be capable of being fruitful in the Christian practice of life." This welcoming view of other traditions is also part of the Benedictine Balance.

With typical Benedictine balance, one of Wil Derkse’s example is the following Zen encouragement: "Before the enlightenment: cut wood and draw water; after the enlightenment: cut wood and draw water."

Background Info.

Benedictines — These are people from all walks and religious traditions who are interested in or live according to the Rule of St. Benedict. The Rule of St. Benedict describes how monks should live communally in a monastery and St. Benedict compiled the Rule about 530 AD. The Rule became the widest Rule used by monks. If you have a general idea of monks in black robes living in a monastery and copying scrolls — it’s probably the Benedictine monks you are thinking about.

Wil Derkse wrote:"The Rule of Benedict for Beginners," Liturgical Press, 2003.

Oblates — (the word comes from a Latin word meaning offering or gift to God) are lay men and women who live in the world, but who follow the Rule of St. Benedict as their circumstances in life allow. Oblates at Catholic and Anglican monasteries come from many religious background such as Baptists or other Protestant traditions.

Work & Prayer — A more historically accurate view of the ora et labora concept is that monks living under the Rule of St. Benedict combined work, reading, and liturgical prayer in a harmonious whole.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Lectio Divina - Defined for Benedictine Oblates

Lectio Divina (spiritual reading) is slow reading of a text, Bible or writings of the Saints, for example. You read thoughtfully until one thought stands out. Then you stop, rest in that thought, and ponder what touched your heart.

The old monks also called this form of reading “ruminatio” a Latin word for how cows chew grass.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Big Ben Chimes Mark the Time for Oblate

One of the additions to our house that has helped in ordering the day — creation of what some people call a family monastery — was the purchase of a big ben chime program that runs on an extra computer and sounds throughout the house on wireless speakers. The chimes are just like the ones at the monastery we visit.

PC Big Ben Chimes, by Aquarius Soft (Elegantly Human)

As an aside, all of the Aquarius Soft products I have are remarkably well designed.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Why Benedictine Spirituality Today?

I find deep spirituality in Benedictine practices. Looking back, my path here seems like a straight line (former atheist, former Protestant evangelical in the Reformed tradition, now an oblate at a Catholic Benedictine monastery) — everyone can pick one of those stages as the worst possible existence.

Wil Derkse writes about how a practice that was developed for monks living communally as the Roman Empire was disintegrating (around 500 AD) can have any validity for today in the practice of oblate monasticism.

In discussing the answer Derkse gives one response by recounting “perhaps [a] rather frivolous, .... apocryphal anecdote about the great physicists Niels Bohr and Albert Einstein. Einstein visited Bohr in his summer home on the Danish coast. He noted that above the entrance, according to local usage, there was a horseshoe, supposedly to bring good luck to the dwellers of the house. “Niels,” he says, “as a physicist you certainly don't believe that such a horseshoe does any good, and that it might influence the course of events?” Bohr answered: “No, of course I don't believe that, but I have heard that it also works if you do not believe in it.”

Above quote from: "The Rule of Benedict for Beginners," by, Liturgical Press, 2003

I recommend the book here.