About a year ago my spiritual searching took me in a new direction: to the local Benedictine monastery for a Taizé prayer service. I had been aware of the Taizé Community, an ecumenical monastic community in France, and their beautiful meditative singing, for a year or two, and had purchased a couple of albums of their music. I often listened to the instrumental music while sleeping, to block out background noise, and listened to their repetitive chanting when I wanted to rest and relax. When I found out about the Taizé service at the Monastery nearby, I decided to attend.
The service was beautiful, and featured a several musicians playing string instruments and a soloist. The songs are simple and repetitive, and singing them can put one in a meditative trance. There are readings and prayers between the songs, and a time of silent meditation. All of that was what I expected.
What I did not expect, was the sense of peace I felt when I walked in the door of the monastery. St. Paul’s Monastery is a beautiful new building, with high ceilings, walls that are covered in artwork, and abundant windows looking out over the beautiful monastery grounds. I felt like I could breathe more easily in that space, and my body could relax. I felt like I had connected with something solid, larger than myself. In some way, I felt like I had come home.
After the prayer service, my husband and I were greeted by Sister Carol, who asked us about who we were and what attracted us to the monastery. She talked a bit about the Benedictine Center, which is the outreach arm of the monastery, where retreats are held and groups meet. And she mentioned that she led some spiritual direction groups, if I might be interested in that. I was interested, and signed up for a group.
Benedictine spirituality is all about noticing how God works in the ordinary details of our lives. There is no need to do anything “holy.” It does not matter what religion or denomination you affiliate with. Whatever we do, in every part of our lives, God is at work, calling and leading us on through the desires of our hearts. Whether it be a prayer service or riding a bicycle, the Spirit uses our heads and hearts and circumstances to move us on to richer lives.
In my spiritual direction group, each person gets a chance to talk about what has been happening in her life, and reflect on the questions, “What might the Spirit be saying to you?” and “Where might the Spirit be leading you?”
It is a joy to sit with others as they examine the details of their lives and discern the presence of God in the ordinary activities of life. I have reached a point in life where I am no longer tolerant of discussing superficial topics that don’t connect to my soul. Living with a chronic illness limits my energy, and I want to spend my time doing things that nurture my soul, and being with people who are interested in finding deeper meaning in life. Group spiritual direction fills some of that longing.
It has been about a year since that first Taizé service, and it still feels good to simply walk in the door of the monastery. I find myself wanting to be here more, to get to know more of the sisters who live and work here, to take part in retreats, and just wander the grounds and gardens, look at the art displays, and simply relax and breathe for a time. I want to be a part of this place and the people who are associated with it.
I want to be a part of this place and the people who are associated with it.
That is why I have submitted my application for oblate formation, and will be attending the first class on Thursday evening.
What is an oblate? Wikipedia has an excellent description, but in short, an oblate is a person, either lay or clergy, who chooses to affiliate with a specific monastic community, and follow the Rule of the order as closely as prior commitments and life circumstances permit. In my case, I will be studying the Rule of Benedict and spending several months discerning my calling to this life.
In writing my application to oblate formation, I had a huge realization about what it is about the monastery that calls to me at this time in my life. It has to do with the death of my mother six years ago, and the loss of the sense of stability that she embodied.
For most of my life I could always go home, to the house I grew up in and to the parents who raised me. Even when my parents moved into a new townhouse, I felt like where they were was home.
For years my own family experienced crisis after crisis. First we navigated through out daughter’s being diagnosed with, and treated for, ulcerative colitis. Then my husband was diagnosed with, and eventually cured of, leukemia. And through these stresses, my own as-yet-undiagnosed sleep disorder kept getting worse.
But even when things seemed to be totally falling apart, I could always go home. My parents were my rock of Gibralter. They were stable, and healthy. Until they weren’t. My father died about 10 years ago; then my mother about 5 years ago. And I can’t go home anymore.
I recently came across this quote from C.S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy:
With my mother’s death all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.
So it was for me when my mother died.
The monastery cannot replace my mother and father, or give me back my childhood home. But it can be a place of refuge for me, and offer me spiritual companionship along my journey.
My own home is a place of love, but also of chaos. We are years behind on housework, and can’t seem to get the place cleaned up. Living with narcolepsy means that my mind has problems with organization and my body has problems with energy.
In addition to looking for God in the details of one’s life, Benedictine spirituality and ministry is all about practicing hospitality. It is the kind of hospitality that recognizes Jesus in the least of my brothers and sisters. I long to practice that kind of hospitality in my life again.
I want to become less interested in material stuff, and more interested in giving of myself. And I want to learn discipline in my prayer life, so that I make it a priority and figure out how to build it into my chaotic days. The Benedictines have a strong emphasis on balance between work and rest that I am hoping to learn from and emulate.
I have been reading a book written by Elizabeth J. Canham, who is an Episcopal Priest and a Benedictine oblate, called Heart Whispers: Benedictine Wisdom for Today, which, according to one reviewer, “guides readers to a daily rhythm that balances work and rest, study and play, and prayer and compassion. Readers will discover anew that life with God is a journey that grows richer and more blessed as we hear and respond to divine grace.”
I want all of that, and I believe that the Spirit wants that for me as well.
Over the years I have learned to trust that the Spirit will lead me to what I need when I need it. As summer draws to an end, my life will be changing. My son has already returned to Duluth to continue his studies at UMD. In just over a week, my daughter will be flying to Scotland for 4 months to spend time with a friend there. After a busy summer with both of them home, the house is going to feel too quiet and empty.
Life is full of changes; some welcome and some difficult. Yet in all things, in every detail of our lives, the Spirit is with us, asking us to check in with our hearts, follow the promptings of our souls, and answer the questions: In what ways do you find God in the ordinary? Where is the Spirit leading you?
How about you? No matter your specific beliefs or the words you use to describe that spiritual force, or source, where do you find God in your life? What does your heart desire? Where is the Spirit leading you?