30 August 2007

My oblate story

The concept of being a Benedictine oblate was new to me when I first heard that the choir director of our Episcopal parish was an oblate of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania. I did not know much about monasticism at the time but was intrigued by the idea that lay people outside monasteries could take on a Benedictine identity of some sort and that this arrangement could happen across denominational boundaries.

Some years later, in 1998, another choirmaster gathered a group of parishioners interested in studying Gregorian chant notation and practice, at a two-week course taught by Fr. Columba Kelly, OSB, at Saint Meinrad Archabbey. I had heard that Saint Meinrad was a center of liturgy and especially chant, and the opportunity to experience a monastery was very appealing.

The two weeks were life-changing, both in newly opened doors to the world of chant and in a fairly lengthy (compared to typical retreats) experience of the monastic rhythm of each day and the week. Particularly compelling were the orderly progress of each day--with enough time for everything and no need to worry whether everything would get done--and the immersion in the beauty of sung prayer, bells, architecture, devotional art, and the daily round of praise as we chanted the psalms.

Another participant in that two-week session was a Lutheran woman from California who said she was an oblate of Saint Meinrad Archabbey. I explored what this meant both by speaking with her and by consulting the archabbey's printed materials about oblates, and I resolved to pray about whether I was called to be an oblate. I felt that many factors had come together to bring me to this decision.

It took some time and a couple of private retreats at the archabbey to decide to apply to become an oblate novice, and then I took a bit of extra time as a novice before making my final oblation. I still feel I was led to oblation and to Saint Meinrad, and at my final oblation I took the oblate name Gregory, for the saint traditionally associated with chant, which had brought me to the archabbey in the first place.

For me, being a Benedictine oblate means having a formal connection with a community and way of life that give a helpful structure to Christian living. Like many people, when it comes to something like losing weight or deepening one's spiritual life, I find specifics helpful: How do I start? What should I do, and when? What happens if...? On a diet, simply thinking I'll eat half of what I normally would eat isn't enough to make the diet successful. I need a daily structure. It's the same way with spiritual things: just deciding to pray more will not bring an effective improvement in the end. Becoming a Benedictine oblate meant that I was signing on to a proven structure, with a supportive community, and with real promises behind the good intentions I had. I have promised to pray in a certain way, daily; I have promised to pray for the Saint Meinrad community; I have promised to read the Rule, practice lectio divina, reach out in specific ways to those around me in the world, and be faithful in my parish's liturgical discipline.

But far beyond self-improvement is the benefit of having St. Benedict pointing the way to Christ at every turn. I often cringe when I hear phrases like "Benedictine living," or "yours in St. Benedict," because Benedict points always to Christ, not himself. It's Christian living with a particular kind of support structure and a tangible cloud of witnesses cheering us on. I stumble daily, many times, on this road, but being an oblate is the way I have found to have friends nearby to help me get up again when I fall. Thanks be to God. As Featured On Ezine Articles

28 August 2007

Chicago bishop nominees

Here they are, a minute late! I haven't even read the names yet. Just copying and pasting. Details here if the site has been fixed. It shattered shortly after the announcement, throwing sharp bits of Web-ola everywhere.

Five nominees for the 12th Bishop of Chicago were received from the Bishop Search Committee and announced Aug. 28, 2007 by the Episcopal Diocese of Chicago's governing body, the Standing Committee, subject to completion of background checks:

The Rev. Jane S. Gould, Priest-in-Charge / Rector,St. Stephen's Memorial Episcopal Church, Lynn, Mass.

The Rev. Jeffrey D. Lee, Rector, St. Thomas Church, Medina, Wash.

The Very Rev. Tracey Lind, Dean, Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland, Ohio

The Rev. Margaret R. Rose, Director of Women's Ministries, The Episcopal Church

The Rev. Timothy B. Safford, Rector, Christ Church, Philadelphia

The praying man

The reflection linked below is by Kate, whom I met a couple of years ago when I attended the Church of Jesus Christ Reconciler for a while. What a wonderful piece of writing...and uplifting. I think I may have seen this man once but didn't have the open eyes and heart that Kate had.

16 August 2007

Derek on the daily office

I'd be crazy not to call attention to another excellent post from Derek on my favorite subject. Excerpt: The Daily Office is one of the things that drew me into the Episcopal Church. Benedictine in spirit, evangelical in nature, the rhythm of psalmody, the constancy of the Scriptures and the experience of the ebb and flow of the liturgical year guided me into a deeper understanding of the Word of God and the way of the cross revealed therein. I can’t pretend I pray the Office every day and every night—but I know I miss it when I don’t or can’t pray it. It has slowly become a part of me, and a central part of what it means for me to be an Anglican, an Episcopalian. The rhythm of the Office punctuated by the Mass on Sundays and feast-days—this is the pattern of Episcopal life as I know it.

02 August 2007

Spiritual direction progress

I've been meeting with a spiritual director for the better part of a year, every six weeks, and have been looking for some new directions or something to get passionate about in terms of ministry, growth in spirituality, and the like. Each session has been rich and helpful, except perhaps the one during which I was hopelessly scattered, throwing in items from hither and yon, but my SD was able to make something of that as well.

Anyway, today he really opened some new doors of possibility and helped put words to what I seemed to him to be yearning for:

"You want to gather people into the interior experience of faith."

This rang like a bell as I heard him say it. And it helped me see why I've been sort of halfheartedly inquiring into theology classes at nearby Loyola U Chicago, looking at their Theology M.A. program, looking at other programs that in my mind could be a sort of substitute for seminary, as I'm not thinking I'm called to ordained ministry. He pointed out that no academic program, even in a church-run university or a seminary, is going to teach me how to do what I'm wanting to do: gather people into the interior experience of faith.

That statement gives rich food for thought and needs some careful unpacking in my mind, but my SD also gave me several new avenues to explore besides theology M.A. programs. I'm quite excited and am starting to explore those. I think there may be some courses out there, independent of a full program, that do explore these things. And I'm reminded of a diocesan course in spirituality that introduced me to friends like Julian of Norwich, Egyptian hermits, John of the Cross, and Teresa de Avila, whose lives and examples are well worth reviewing.

Not a complete picture (will it ever be?), but it's thrilling to get more pieces of it. Food for prayer indeed. And TBTG for my wonderful SD.