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Monastic With a Day Job – Introduction

17 May 2010

This is the first in a series of conversations around the book How to Be a Monastic and Not Leave Your Day Job: An Invitation to Oblate Life (Voices from the Monastery) by Brother Benet Tvedten of Blue Cloud Abbey.  My brief reflections are posted here, but the real benefit will be in the conversation among the Oblates in the Comments.

On reading the introduction to Brother Benet’s book, I was struck by the breadth of the topics he chose to include:

  • a good dip into the history of Benedictines
  • quite a few references to the challenges of modern life
  • discussion of particular elements of Benedictine life
  • a focus on the universality of the need for these elements across time and location

Two quotations on page xv struck me by their seeming opposition that, on reflection, I saw as a unity.   First Brother Benet quotes Dr. Janet Buchanan:

Benedictinism lives in individuals who are Benedictine, and not necessarily in monasteries.

In the very next paragraph, Brother Benet quotes Cardinal Basil Hume – who was himself a monk of Ampleforth Abbey in Yorkshire, England – writing about The Rule :

Calls for social cohesion will fall on deaf ears if we see ourselves as a collection of individuals, rather than a society of people with a shared interest in each other’s welfare.

“Which is it,” I wanted to ask Brother Benet, “does living by The Rule as a Benedictine require a community? Or is it something an individual can do?” The answer, of course, is “Both.”  For the Oblate, and even for the member of a monastic community today, there are still a lot of questions.  Who is the community and how does one relate to it?  What does it mean to say that Benedictinism – the whole of it – lives  in an individual, and what would that look like?  What relationship do we really have with St. Benedict and Alcuin?  Are we Benedictines for ourselves or for the world?

The rest of the book will, I am sure, bring us back to questions grounded in reality – but it is good to begin with some big ones.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. 25 May 2010 8:00 pm

    Like you, I found both those quotes worth noting and thinking about. I responded first to the simple statement Dr. Buchanan makes about the individual who reaches “the point where he or she can say what I want most in life is to be a monk.” I remember that when I left the Poor Clares, my dear friend Sister Mary told me that now I could be “Clare in the world.” that longing to be a “monk in the world” has remained with me. This is certainly what drew me to the Benedictines. At first I was not certain my Franciscan spirituality would fit with the Benedictines but I’ve since discovered that one can be both.

    In his book, Things Hidden, Franciscan Richard Rohr speaks of what he defines as the cosmic egg in which the individual 9the “my story” comprises the smallest dome which is encompassed by a secondary dome he calls “our story” within the larger community, which is in turn girded by “The Story.” While he relates this third and largest egg to “The patterns that are always true,” I see it as the way we as individuals relate to the larger world from within our particular community.

    Becoming a Benedictine Oblate has grounded me within this cosmic egg so that I no longer act as an individual in the larger world but relate to that world from within a community that sustains and strengthens me. This sense directly references Cardinal Hume’s statement that “Calls for social cohesion will fall on deaf ears if we see ourselves as a collection of individuals, rather than a society of people with a shared interest in each others welfare”

  2. Cheryl Fleckenstein permalink
    24 May 2010 4:11 pm

    While it is an apparent contradiction (living the Rule as individual vs community), it is a both/and. In my life right now, I’d love to retreat into solitude and live the Rule on my own, but even alone, I still live in community, because I have a husband and daughter and extended family. None of us lives in a vacuum, as much as we would like too.

    At the same time, since I am no longer working as a pastor, I am not in any Christian community, and have no desire to be in one, other than the Benedictine community at the St. Scholastica Monastery, and gathering with clergy friends and other oblates.

    • 25 May 2010 8:13 pm

      Community is so much greater than that defined by a particular church isn’t it? As a matter of fact, I sometimes find church communities exclusive enclaves that reject the greater community.

      • Cheryl Fleckenstein permalink
        26 May 2010 6:36 am

        Very well said, Beryl, and so very true. Sadly enough.

    • Erin permalink
      7 June 2010 8:34 am

      I so relate, Cheryl! No longer working as a pastor has been, although painful, also freeing — it has opened up new possibilities of thinking and being, and even of being in community. And the oblate group has become for me also an important community.

  3. Monica Isley permalink
    24 May 2010 1:45 pm

    I liked the question Sr. Edith posed about the apparent contradiction between Buchanan’s statement that Benedictinism lives in individuals, and Humes remark that we can’t simply be a collection of individuals but must see ourselves as a society.

    And, of course, they go together. Benedictinism must live in the heart and motivate the individual life before it can be transferred to any kind of society, be it family, work place or monastery. If it’s alive inside us, it can be practiced anywhere. In a way, it’s easier to practice it within a monastery only because it’s presumed that everyone there has the same motivation, the same guide, for their lives. Trying to apply Benedict’s guidelines for work, for instance, is extremely difficult when working in a secular setting that espouses no such self-giving philosophy.

    It also requires more self-discipline to at least go through the motions (although the “motions” of themselves aren’t enough). For instance, Bro. Benet notes that oblates are strongly encouraged to pray Morning and Evening prayer, but how many do? How many really work to make that part of their schedules? And how many can’t because they have to deal with the schedules of people around them for whom “prayer time” isn’t even a consideration, let alone a priority.

    • 25 May 2010 8:11 pm

      How lovely to see you here Monica. I have missed your presence very much. One of the strongest influences in my daily living of a Benedictine way of life, is the discipline suggested by the rule as regards prayer and the recitation of morning and evening prayer. I have been most consistent in making my early mornings one of prayer but when evening comes I sort of botch it until bedtime. Morning prayer jump starts my days but evening prayer sort of slides into a hole. I do find, however, that the time immediately before sleep is one of greater union with God. Lazy, yes. But strengthening in its own way.

    • Erin permalink
      7 June 2010 8:32 am

      Thank you for your good comments, Monica, especially about Benedictinism of the heart. It has to do with integrity, I think. And with congruency between what is in our heart and what we actually do and say. I life-long job.

  4. SUSAN OF COOK permalink
    20 May 2010 12:52 pm

    What came out the most in the introduction was the question to myself. Why did i become and Oblate of St Benedict. Ester de Waal put it in words for me.(end of second paragraph on page XVI) I have never thought of the monastic life until I was out of sourses of searching for my soul. Living in community is not on my scope, even retreats with groups are hard for me. Selfish, yes, seeking solitude, YES. Some how I crave discussion to learn more. Benedictine values fit me, doing the best you can where you are, fits me I am ot an intellectual, but I can learn to listen with the ear of my heart.

  5. Bill Christ permalink
    19 May 2010 9:10 am

    “Social Cohesion” should be loudly proclaimed and used aggressively in the currently emerging debates underway as to how best to use the rapidly developing genetic sciences, technologies and applications “for the good of all mankind” and for the “good of the biosphere.” With our new capabilities to genetically modified nearly anything, to clone ourselves and other animals, to alter the creation we were called to “nurture,” we need an ethic informed by the Benedictine Rule on how best to maintain social cohesion, to stay true to the call made to us in Genesis to nurture and “go forth . . .” but are we called to “genetically modify?” And, if so, and just because we can, who and what do we modify to what ends? Just to make giant profits? To heal the wealthy at great expense and leave little money for the billions of poor who could benefit from a “nurture” approach vs. a “genetically modify” approach? What does our community believe Benedict’s views would be? What advice would he be giving us as his Oblates? Bill Christ

    • SUSAN OF COOK permalink
      20 May 2010 12:59 pm

      Bill, I would say Bennedict would simply say, “Start with yourself, become the values you want, others may follow.” Frustraiting as it is, one person can and a community like the momostary of Benedictines does make a difference. I see it in the school and the hospital. I can help by doing what I can and setting an example. Small potatoes for sure. You ask a hard question.

    • 25 May 2010 8:21 pm

      I suppose that our greatest hope in dealing with such challenges is the recognition that we do not act solely as individuals but as a member of the greater body of which St. Paul speaks. When we strive to live honest and godly lives the benefits accrue to the body in much the same way a small pill can fight disease and induce healing.

    • Erin permalink
      7 June 2010 8:30 am

      The discussion about “social cohesion” got me thinking about the question of community: Who am I in community with? What is it that binds us within a community? I think these questions point to opening up our idea of what community is. It’s not just our family, our church congregation, even our neighborhood or town. But it is also those we are bound to through our ideas and faith, our needs and the needs of others.

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