Friday, February 06, 2009

Joining St. Brigid's

So, last night we were having an Administrative Council meeting at my larger church (I am pastor of a "two point charge", in Methodist parlance), and as part of my report, I wanted to say something about my recent final oblation. And I found I really didn't have the words to explain what I wanted, and I was caught up short by the people around the table expressing interest! (and let me say up front how much I love them for that!)

So, I'm going to try to say what it is that I did, and why, and also attempt not to induce drowsiness. Anyone who is more versed in this stuff than I am is absolutely invited to give constructive criticism.

I am an oblate in the Monastery of St. Brigid of Kildare. I declared my final oblation on Sunday, Feb. 1, 2009. So what does that mean?

The way I understand it, an oblate is a person of Christian persuasion who pledges to live according to a "Rule", which is a guide to living life written for a cloister. (I am not aware of their having been Rules written by any women, but my education down this road is very short.) An oblate, however, is not a monk. Oblates were originally people who lived outside the monastery and helped it, served it, did the things that allowed monks to maintain their life within the monastery. Oblates, however, have developed into people who want to live faithful, regular lives without taking on full monastic vows. They seek to apply a Rule to "secular" life (secular meaning outside of the monastery, or in the world.)

The Rule I pledged to try my best to live within is the Rule of St. Benedict. It was written by Benedict of Nursia, Italy, in the early 6th century. It wasn't the first, it is not the last, but it is the basis for most western Monasticism. My new wrestling partner provides a wrestling match that consists of taking the rule and adapting it, to try to make meaningful for my life the rules that are meant to provide structure and harmony for a community of cloistered monks; how to make their rule work for a married father who is a pastor. Benedict was very practically oriented, and though maintained in the Rule 5 times of prayer daily, also speaks of the value of work, of faithfulness to community through work, and the balance of work, rest, prayer, meals and times of study. The balance of these makes human life meaningful. I've found that it actually does give spiritual peace to do ordinary menial tasks well. There is a sacrament to washing dishes, to cleaning toilets, to doing laundry, to being patient as a parent and a spouse. There is also a sacrament to doing a vocation well, to honoring responsibilities. The less fun parts are more easily done when you think of them as ways of being in communion with a God has created it all. This is not to claim that I am perfect at any of it, but I feel that I have gotten better at all of it over the last year; and just to be clear, three daily prayer moments are the goal for me!

My journey with the Rule is just starting, and I do not know it by heart yet, as some who are oblates do (never mind the men and women who live by it much more closely as cenobites, or monks who live in community). When I declared my oblation, I declared it to a community, a group of people who had made the same declaration, the same oblation. The group I joined is called the Monastery of St. Brigid of Kildare, and its physical base is in St. Cloud, Minnesota, apparently included within a large Benedictine Catholic monastery. I don't know, because I haven't been there. It is not Catholic itself, but United Methodist. I actually found it at first in a guidebook that the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship published. I think there are about 60 members of this group, and it has existed for about 25 years. All of us are Oblates, there are no regular residents, no "Cenobites". We do not meet regularly physically. There is a once a year meeting and retreat that is scheduled on or around the "Feast Day" of St. Benedict or conveniently, midsummer. We do meet, regularly, by teleconference.

The Monastery of St Brigid of Kildare has three sources of inspiration; The Rule of St. Benedict, which I described above; the writings of John Wesley and the Methodist movement, from which most of the members spring and whose understanding of salvation and action we share; and the spirit and the expression of Celtic Christianity. Through the third inspiration, the house is structured much more loosely, and both men and women are members. St. Brigid was an abbess of two adjoining houses in Kildare before 610, the year that the Roman Catholic church took over Ireland and eradicated much Celtic Christian practice. That may be the reason why her name was chosen, but I don't know.

I don't know that there is any short answer to the question "so what did you do last week?" I can point you to the website that first got me interested, if you will click here.

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