Oblate Formation – Benedictine Spirituality

Our upcoming formation is titled “Benedictine Spirituality for Today.” The pre-course work for this class consists of:

  1. ruleforbeginners_coverReading an excerpt from The Rule of Benedict for Beginners: Spirituality for Daily Life by Wil Derkse. Derkse is a Benedictine oblate of St. Willibrord’s Abbey in Doetinchem, the Netherlands.
  2. Reflect upon how I have experienced my sponsor and the community life so far, in the areas of: prayer, community life, and hospitality.

The Rule of Benedict for Beginners

I found the short excerpt of Derkse’s book enough for me to relate to his experiences. His first interaction with Benedictines were the sisters of HIldegard Abbey in Germany, and mine was with the sisters of St. Paul’s Monastery. Derkse choosing to complete his oblation with the monks of St. Willibrord’s Abbey made me consider my journey. I have wondered what might be different if I worked though oblation with a group of men. I work in a denomination which ordains women, and currently has a female general superintendent, so my thoughts have nothing to do with spiritual authority, simply the different dynamics of a community of men versus a community of women. I wondered if I would more easily feel a part of a community of monks, and if I had a choice in my location would I have chosen the men’s community over the women’s, and why?

Wil Derkse’s brother initially had more experience with the abbey. However it was Wil who moved toward becoming an oblate. I have felt from the beginning that I am the “newbie” in the room at the monastery. Many others have been guests and partners of this or another monastery for years. One of my fellow oblate candidates, Michael, know my sponsor far better than I do. Some went to schools with Benedictine teachers. Many at least grew up Roman Catholic, so they are familiar with the worship forms.

Derkse also noted the modernity of the Benedictines even while maintaining a 1500-year-old Rule. The vocations and high educational levels were also things I noticed as being modern. At the same time, he and I both felt the initial awkwardness at bowing at certain points during The Hours.

exhibitLastly, Benedictines do everything with the focus and care of an artist. Whether one is actually making a work of art, engaging in the art of conversation, or cleaning so that the monastery architectural beauty can be seen without distraction, all is done with care. This reminded me that I should bring this focus to all my work, including the cleaning of my home and care of my church building.

Reflections on the Community

Prayer: Worship and Chapel

  • Being with your Sponsor: So far I have had three worship times with my sponsor, twice at to monastery and once at my church.  I feel like that is not very much, but the times have been meaningful. The first was our oblate enrollment ceremony, and the most recent was Sister Mary attending the candlelight Christmas Eve service at Oakdale Wesleyan.
  • Being part of the community: My first experience at the monastery was an overnight personal retreat. One thing that made me feel accepted was the invitation to partake of all things: dining in the cafeteria, The Hours, and The Lord’s Table. I usually participate in the monthly Taizé prayer. And as my family was out of town at the new year going to prayer at the monastery that day. I also appreciate the seating arrangement in the chapel, with two choirs facing each other (I have copied this once for my congregation but the shape of our sanctuary is not well suited for this arrangment), as well as any sister not feeling interrupted, instead feeling it is a part of worship, to help someone find their page in the prayer book.  Perhaps the only difficulty I have are the melodies which are in keys for high female voices. I often find myself searching for a harmony.

Community Life: Beauty and Order in the Community

  • Being with your Sponsor: We have not had much interaction in this area. The most significant has been our conversations, both on enrollment night and a subsequent dinner we shared at the monastery.
  • labyrinthBeing part of the Community: I have enjoyed viewing the monastery art, taking classes, the library, and the labyrinth. With those things I am perhaps at this point merely making use of the community rather than really being a part.

Hospitality: Relationship to Each Other and Guests

  • Being with your Sponsor: Being invited to dinner at the monastery by Sister Mary  was a special treat. It is one thing to know you are welcome to be a part of dinner any time, just call ahead, and other to be particularly invited. In a small way I was grateful to be able the “hospitality” of my influence.  Through the Justice & Peace Committee, Sister Mary has been working to bring education on human trafficking to schools, and I have been working my school connections on her behalf.
  • Sam Rahberg (director of the Benedictine Retreat Center) and all the sisters are always welcoming, be that for a particular class or just a drop by visit. Not everyone knows my name, but neither do I know everyone’s name. I admit to keeping a PDF of the monastery directory on my phone to help me learn names.

photo credit: 2014.07.26 Exhibit – Photo Manhattan via photopin (license)

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