5 Formation Lessons from Oblation

Nearing one year of Benedictine oblate candidate formation, here are five formation points I experienced which are useful to any spiritual formation, especially small groups.

24700974346_4a15b9e179_bSet Goals

In order to enter oblate candidate formation, I completed an extensive application, which included goals to work on during my time in formation. Also, at the end of each class, each candidate added new goals or honed existing goals to greater specificity. Having goals provides a target and a way to check progress (2 Corinthians 5:9). As oblate candidates we each have individual goals, but as a group we choose to pursue our goals together at the Benedictine monastery.

20763232908_d75fed275b_bHave Community

Oblation candidates form a small group, and that small group is part of the greater monastic (Benedictine in my case) community, which is also in turn part of the greater Church. Small groups need the larger communities for worship and accountability. The larger communities need small groups because that is were personal accountability and encouragement grows. The Church is our connection  to Christ. Small groups are our connection to each other (Romans 16:23, Colossians 1:18).

19363723741_e05a5491a4_bForm Relationships

Small groups can have several purposes. Study, service, and fellowship come quickly to mind. However, growth comes through the relationships. How can I encourage the growth of a person I do not know? Our oblate group only met, formally, once a month, but in those 2 1/2 hours each month we pray together, listen to each other, and eat together, in addition to learning together (Acts 2:42). As many small groups meet weekly, it seems to me that the regularity and quality of the relationships may be more important than frequency.

25333971474_1ba8da63e8_bLimit Time

We candidates committed to one year of formation, with the caveat that if we discerned at any time this process was not for us (whether at this time or forever), we could drop out. The structure we follow is a year (technically 9 months) of formation which ends in a discernment retreat to determine if we would like to continue. Being relational, small groups may go on for years, but people do need points to freely enter and exit, and to know the length of commitment (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). A time limit also pushes one to accomplish goals.

24500990423_0bea18ec79_bUse Symbols

In every class the sisters gave us some symbol. We sit in a circle with a lit pillar candle in the middle. Sometimes we took home small physical objects: a scallop shell, a lapel pin, an acrylic diamond, word art. Other times we gained a useful item: a book, bookmark, book bag, soap. We heard sounds: sacred music, tolling of bells. We touch: the water in the baptismal font, each other by the laying on of hands or hugs. Symbols create reminders, engage different senses, and support varied learning styles (1 Samuel 7:12).

Other posts in this series:
8 Attributes in Effective Spiritual Formation: Lessons Learned from Saint Ignatius

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