Oblation

10/19/2019, in the Chapel, encircled by Oblates and Monks, and guided by Brother Gabriel, I am received into the community of Mt. Saviour Monastery. It is day three of a four day Retreat; a gathering of Oblates from Canada and the US, near and far. The only way I can describe these four days: a soft and lovely song, start to finish.

I had not reviewed the outline for the Oblation ceremony in quite some time. In fact, I was not sure I’d be able to attend the Retreat and not sure if the time was right to take the step. It unfolded, quite naturally, as soon as I felt an unequivocal certainty, asked if it could happen, and got the “yes” from Brother Gabriel. I had very little time to write out my Oblation statement, which I signed, witnessed by the community, and which remained on the Communion Table. Part of me wants to apologize for the notepaper, the lack of editing. But the heart of me was in it, and remains in it.

I feel quite joyful, having made the leap. My discernment period took about 16 months. I’m sure the process differs for people who seriously consider a Benedictine life. One to the next, each person finds their way to a decision based on their whole being, and their way of being. I prayed, often (all the time, really), for help with figuring out whether I was doing the discerning, or whether I was being discerned by the Benedictine legacy (I believe it worked both ways, after all) and I may have over-thought or under-thought everything.

On some level, I was afraid. Very SERIOUS. Reading and re-reading and a little nervous about reading Scripture, as prescribed for Lectio Divina. I was unsettled for about six months. Noisy.

Conversatio: it dawned on me, eventually, that I have somehow recognized and harmonized with the way-of-being that IS Mt Saviour. I did not know what to call truth of the place or the truth of the life that is lived there. Now I do.

God’s sense of humor? Or, His pity. One indication that one might consider becoming an Oblate is if one buys all the merchandise in the gift shop, at regular intervals, in what may be an attempt to “bring the monastery home.” Of course, one also purchases gifts for all reasons and seasons in order to share a “piece of the peace” in the form of books, CDs, candles, cards, knitted goods, pictures, you-name-it.

Mercifully, He directed me toward a brochure in the lobby. It was free. The word looked interesting; a word I had not noticed before and knew nothing about. Oblate.

I seek God, as He seeks me. I seek to know His Will, and seek to DO His Will. Not so easy. Possibly impossible. But, I have a toolbox.

Saint Scholastica, dear sister, pray for me. Our Lady of Guadalupe, pray for me. And thank you, Our Lady, Queen of Peace.

January, 2019. Walking the hills.

Relationships

All these postings begin with the letter “R” for no specific reason, but it serves as a prompt (or maybe it’s a growl) for thoughts. This title, “relationships,” feels like it should be in all-caps.

I’m tempted to use cliches, and may have to resort to one or two because relationships, like people, can be complicated. Or complex. The beauty, awe, and what feels like simplicity, in the best sense of the word, comes from seeking Christ, a relationship with Christ, a good relationship with Christ; joyous.

Today, the phrase “I give you my WORD” kept echoing in my heart as a call to reflect on the sound of it and experience of it when it comes from people I love and trust compared to hearing it from God. Sometimes we humans lie and are lied to.

I have to reflect on this. It may be a key to forgiveness, starting with myself. The phrase itself is powerful in that we respond strongly to it, or any other oath. If it is used to manipulate trust the consequences are truly heartbreaking when the truth is revealed. So, it can strike caution, or even terror, in the heart when we hear it from someone who tries to be sincere but leans toward deceit.

That’s not a revelation. My guess is most people have believed, in the moment, because we love someone, we champion each other toward doing the right things, etc., etc., that we are being told the truth. Somehow, we’re not surprised when promises are broken, though. And we can internalize anger at ourselves for having been fooled.

We certainly lie to ourselves, too. Resolutions can sour into revolutions even though we have given ourselves our WORD. Or, we let others down, way down, if we break our word. The intention, in both cases, may have been sound and sincere in the moment.

The seed for these thoughts may have come from the readings at Mass the other day regarding the need for God to play a role in our lives and in our hearts because the human heart is unpredictable, and often treacherous. But not God’s, not God’s.

So I will thank Him for His Word. And as I get to know St Benedict every day, through absorbing his Rule, I thank him, also.

Reading

The first book I borrowed from the small public library in West Elmira was “Mrs. Piggle Wiggle’s Farm.” My father had walked me in to the converted four-square house on Water Street. He’d held my hand, as usual, and helped me obtain my junior library card.

To sit at my desk and open that book, in the quiet and privacy of my room, was an unforgettable experience, a gift. It was as if the love from my father, which I took completely for granted, and in which I delighted (and still do, in memory), illuminated an entire new world of conversation and imagery and story-telling through the world of books.

In hindsight, I see that I built up my “reading chops,” by reading everything around the house, from the Sunday Comics to “War and Peace,” and, just for fun, the World Book Encyclopedias, later the Encyclopedia Britannica. In the meantime, I was borrowing the Nancy Drew Mysteries, and other age-appropriate books, from the West Elmira Public Library.

Today, I have bookshelves here, there, and everywhere. I own a lot of ” fluff,” for lack of a better way to describe some of the books…like Hallmark Cards on steroids. But, there are numerous novels, biographies, lots of non-fiction, and I’ve tried to keep things organized, as in categories and alpha-by-author.

In this time of discernment, as I take stock of all these books, I am ready to clear out most of them. It’s come down to the Grail Psalter, four Bibles, and a few others. And the realizations, awakenings, the combination of deep love-as-teacher, hit me in what I can only describe as a fullness-of-time experience this morning. I am so grateful, so very grateful.

Response

Six months into this year of discernment and I recognize a few things. The first is that the “call” was very distinct, as in reading/praying “With my whole heart I seek thee,” with those words transforming into an interior voice, larger, clearer than mine, harmonizing back at me, and bringing with it a particular lightness of joy at the same time a depth of seriousness and sincerity.

Fumbling: I may still be fumbling, but closer to discovering the call is real. There is something to be said for “Fiat,” as in a complete “yes,” but there are steps…steps which, I think, are outlined in the Rule.

Fiat is not the same as throwing oneself, willy nilly, into the academic approach of responding to the call with a Study Program and examination at year’s end.

This is more about Community than I may have recognized at the starting gate. If this is a Way to Christ, it is a joint effort. This brings a reality and solidity to prayers-for-others. It is easy to leave others as abstract thoughts, in which case prayers for them can be “said with the head,” in the secret hope that God won’t notice it’s lip service only.

Anyway, I’m beginning to discern what I believe calls for discernment, as in can Benedict’s way be the way for me with the values of monastic life becoming prayer in and of themselves? Right now I feel this calls for becoming an interface, a permeable fence between the Monastery Community and the community of family, friends, and things-going-on-in-the world.

I think I went on retreat much like that woman in today’s Gospel who touched the hem of Christ’s garment…having spent years looking for a “cure” to the what-all and whatever-existence-takes-out-of-you while you seek proof of truth, He recognizes the tug and says “here is your life back.”

He does this while he’s on his way to literally bring a twelve-year-old girl back from the dead. It’s a highly personal encounter with the hem-grabber, and a Community event with the girl and her family. It’s everything all at once.

I trust in the excitement and energy again, which is what I felt when the hammer of “Become an Oblate!” struck me but before I had the discipline to slow down, get steady, do one thing at a time, and do it in the spirit of the Rule.

So, yes, I think one thing I have discerned is the need for stability, and that by way of praying “with the monks” throughout the day. Vigils and Lauds are two anchors dropped, at the start.

Work: Simplicity sounds simple. But, steadily, I can start to unload the extraneous stuff, both material and psychological/emotional. Here’s where trust plays a part.

Return

The first return was to the grounds of the Monastery, but it had only been a few days since my previous visit. Though I have been present there, on and off, for 60 years, it was the first time I stayed for days on end.

Kairos. It is true this was an opportune period of time for silence and renewal. The proof is in the flow, which included unexpected crisis (missing None and Vespers on Sunday in order to take my sister to Urgent Care) and an unplanned, but necessary, sibling meeting on Tuesday morning which, at least, took place between Mass and Sext.

The external pulls were secondary to the internal pulls I’d arrived with, as in a soul full of noise and grief. But, Brother Gabriel sat through our meeting, politely offering a few key words. My plan had been to spend the retreat listening. If this is a period of discernment, I had reached an apex of static. Discern what, again?

Does he remember suggesting a hike? Does he realize how often he used the word ” ascolta?”

I took a long, silent hike the following day, and heard absolutely nothing. Glorious quiet, inside and out. I listened to nothing, really listened.

Deeper into Benedict: a joyful rhythm of Psalms and readings throughout the day, with both Vigils (4:45 a.m) and Compline (8:15 p.m) concluding in a circle of song around Our Lady, Queen of Peace. That was a surprise. Lovely and appropriate.

Take away:

1) A visit to the Tabernacle with the expectation that I’d end up crying. Not even close…I ended up laughing with delight as I heard, in my heart, “I am here!” “I am here!”

2) More delight at seeing at Mass, and greeting afterward, three different family members on three different days; cousins I rarely see, otherwise.

3) The inkling that Benedict’s Rule, full of Gospel basics, combined with the Psalms, are teaching me to be HUMAN. I can’t articulate all that means, yet. It has something to do with facing reality head on and honestly…including the truth that God loves us, not in spite of the fact we’re human, but because he loves his creations, of which we’re one.

(Brother Gabriel may have said so at our meeting. Apparently, I heard it.)

The Psalms: an honest mirror of life as a human…due respect and awe for life and its Creator, gratitude for the gifts, the successes, the victories…anguish, anger, name-calling, ill-will against enemies (within and without), pleas for help, lessons, promises, the WORKS.

The Rule: the best of good Italian fathers; a forerunner of Aquinas, in knowing we are to eat, dress, work, sleep, pray, take care of our whole selves, listen to God, and be good to each other. That’s the top layer…for me, for now.

Confession: everything about this Sacrament is good!

The second return was to home. Peaceful. Orderly. I lost the chronic feeling of missing this one or that one, the past, anxiety-as-familiar. Efforts to discern anything in five days and nights somehow went by the wayside. Kairos can happen here…in many ways, since I took on the Benedictine practices, it has been happening here. I just did not recognize it.

Retreat

Two days out from checking into East Casa, late January. The hamper is packed in cold storage, and rain freezes down on all this snow.

” Everything and everyone will be fine at home.” Doubts.

Optimism. That pine branch hangs low over the driveway leading to the casa, but my cargo van hood will lift it up and brush it aside like a wisp of bangs on a forehead. 300 plus pounds of salt over the rear axle will allow for enough traction to climb Monastery Road.

Surface thoughts: worried about built environments, food for husband and pets, the weather.

Onward to the School of the Heart. Every school has a door. And everyone should be blessed to have a Mother, as touchstone, who says “Go in, go…I’ll be right here whenever you need me.”

Calm. Please. And silence. I need to listen. I hope I can hear. The door to the school of the heart creaks loudly, and weighs a ton.

A tiny glimpse into Benedict. I am overwhelmed with sadness at the passing of New York’s Reproductive Rights Bill. And horrified at all it implies. Reverse evolution: I prefer a cave.

And time with Our Lady, Queen of Peace.