Lightness and joy

St Benedict, from a mural by Fra Angelico

People often look at me strangely when I mention I’m a Benedictine.

I suspect many wouldn’t know what Benedictine monks and nuns were if not for the Brother Cadfael books and TV series, and for that unlikely hit reality show filmed at Worth Abbey, The Monastery.

But me? A Benedictine? I catch furtive glances as if I might embarrass everyone by suddenly praying out loud, or pop into the nearest telephone box, spin round and emerge in a habit with the letter B stitched on my chest.

Benedictine oblates

I’m not, of course, a nun living in community behind the monastery walls. I’m a Benedictine oblate: someone who has a (so-called) normal existence in the everyday world while living the essence of Benedictine spirituality and maintaining close connections to a specific Benedictine monastery.

Sacred living

This is all by way of saying that:

  • A spiritual practice, no matter how flawed, gives life such joy, and
  • Today we celebrate the life of St Benedict of Nursia, born around 15 centuries ago, whose monastic Rule and influence reshaped Europe.

Daily practice

One of the things I do every day is read part of the Rule of Benedict, the deceptively slender book written by St Benedict which has been the touchstone for hundreds and thousands of lives over the centuries. I love the sense of continuity this gives. I also love the startling modernity of many of its passages and its challenging concepts.

Simplicity

Today’s passage is Chapter 33, and it covers the prohibition against private ownership of any item by a Benedictine monastic.

… no members may presume to give, receive, or retain anything as their own, nothing at all – not a book, writing tablets or stylus – in short not a single item, especially since monastics may not have the free disposal even of their own bodies and wills.

This is a truly radical notion which goes against every individualistic, materialistic ideal of society today.

But I’ve said here before that simplicity, letting go of our ‘stuff’, is one of the most important steps we can take as we grow older.

The version of the Rule I’m currently reading has a commentary by Sr Joan Chittister, and she recounts the following story:

The Hasidim tell the story of the visitor who went to see a very famous rabbi and was shocked at the sparsity, the bareness, the emptiness of his little one-room house. “Why don’t you have any furniture?” the visitor asked. “Why don’t you?” the rabbi said. “Well, because I’m only passing through,” the visitor replied. “Well, so am I,” the rabbi answered.

That story has followed me all through the day, and has given me a feeling of such lightness and joy.

What spiritual practices or sacred pauses give you joy?

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14 Responses to Lightness and joy
  1. claire
    July 11, 2011 | 8:39 pm

    You’re being a Benedictine Oblate has done much to introduce me to the Benedictine spirituality. And I thank you for this :-)
    claire recently posted..An Extraordinary ConfirmationMy Profile

  2. Elizabeth
    July 12, 2011 | 8:26 am

    Delighted to find someone with a Benedictine connection. I’d be a Cistercian oblate if they did such things (they do in the US but not here). Thank you for the timely reminder!

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      July 12, 2011 | 6:26 pm

      Elizabeth, a warm welcome here, and thank you for the comment. I hopped over to your site and am loving what I see and read there.
      I didn’t realise Cistercians didn’t have lay communities here. I know from Carl McColman’s site (I expect you know it: http://anamchara.com/) that they do in the States, but assumed it was the same.

  3. Barbara
    July 12, 2011 | 8:25 pm

    I wish there were an English-speaking oblate community around here. I used to connect to an abbey near Boston, but decided to drop that because oblation would not be practical at such a distance. Still, I try to live an oblate commitment. Little by little my life is conforming. Slow is always better.
    Lately, I have found it a delight to begin my day sitting up in my bed, kitty or two by my side and a cup of Sumatran coffee, and spend quality time in prayer based on Scripture, i.e. lectio. Then I pray the office of Readings (aka Matins or Night Office) because it is not as time-situated. I still cannot deal with time pressures and I felt badly that I was saying Lauds so late. :'( Before I fall asleep, I try to say Compline in one form or another. I am now trying to fit in a segment of the Rule. Not sure where it will go.
    I feel more at peace these days.
    Barbara recently posted..daily we begin againMy Profile

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      July 13, 2011 | 6:07 pm

      Barbara, this sounds like a good balance, and I’m glad that peace is finding you. I think one danger of living monastic elements of life is that it begins to feel like a spiritual endurance race. For that reason I’ve long forgiven myself if I’m not able to do everything I want to in respect of prayer.

      • Barbara
        July 15, 2011 | 6:30 am

        Wise words, Tess. Peace is precious. I enjoy it while it surrounds me, but know it won’t always be there.
        Barbara recently posted..the dashing and the lightMy Profile

  4. magnolia
    July 12, 2011 | 8:47 pm

    First, I was looking for a place to comment at the bottom, and clicked the thumbs down, thinking that was the comments. I came back and gave a thumbs up!

    Great post. We are moved in to our RV to help us acclimate and decide what we must have, and what we may discard.

    Simplicity is a goal. A meditation in simplicity.
    magnolia recently posted..~ dappled cypress light ~My Profile

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      July 13, 2011 | 6:10 pm

      Thank you, I’m so glad you returned for a thumbs up! (I’m experimenting with that as an option for readers who are too busy to comment but it doesn’t seem to popular – guess my readers are all or nothing types!
      “…what we may discard” is, I think, very important. To be flippant for a minute, it’s a bit like that piece of advice attributed to Frenchwoman: get dressed including accessories then take off one piece of jewellery!

  5. Tenar
    July 13, 2011 | 1:48 pm

    Thank you for this story Tess. Wonderful to see the interfaith understanding, the light and joy, that is what it is, wherever it is encountered.

    A practice I love in Taoism & Zen is called wei wu wei (“doing not doing,” or “effort-less action”). A story is told that one day a contemplative was out in a garden raking stones, and one of the stones accidentally caught under a prong of the rake and jumped up and hit the bamboo handle, making a sound. Hearing it, the contemplative simultaneously leapt into a moment of splendid awareness, of wei wu wei, where it is said you can “catch yourself not doing anything.”

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      July 13, 2011 | 6:11 pm

      Thank you for this “small stone” of beautiful information!

  6. Alison Wiley
    July 13, 2011 | 3:37 pm

    Good post, Tess . . . more important, you have a LIFE that you’ve handcrafted to be both disciplined and joyful. It’s ironic that many liberal people who see themselves as free-thinking will shut their minds quickly at the mention of God, and the fact that some of their fellow liberals (you and I!) love God devoutly.

    In answer to your questions, my core spiritual practice is going to my neighborhood church to worship with others — not a common practice here in Oregon :) http://www.diamondcutlife.org/confession-i-love-church/
    And my sacred pauses take place in a handcrafted corner of the bedroom I share with my husband: http://www.diamondcutlife.org/grief-and-my-sacred-corner/
    Alison Wiley recently posted..This & That In Mid-JulyMy Profile

    • Tess Giles Marshall
      July 13, 2011 | 6:14 pm

      “Handcrafted”. Yes, that’s a great word to use, both as fact and aspiration.
      There are so many ranges of spiritual belief and unbelief and they seem to be at such odds. Fundies thinking atheists are evil, atheists getting absurdly worked up about what others believe. I guess we all have closed corners of our minds.
      Thank you for sharing your two articles, I always enjoy what you write.

  7. Anne-Marie
    July 13, 2011 | 10:27 pm

    Hi Tess, I’m intrigued to learn you are a Benedictine oblate. I’d love to hear more about it and how you came to be one, if you wanted to share that on your blog. I was born and raised a Catholic and, although I’m no longer a practising Catholic, I still have a lot of respect and fondness for the church.

    I hope to become a member of my local Quaker meeting within the next year. For me, going to meeting every Sunday gives me great joy and peace. The profound silence is the best way of communing with God – not to mention “recharging my batteries” ahead of another busy week.

    Thanks for your kind words and advice on my latest blog post.
    Anne-Marie recently posted..keep listening.My Profile