I had once gotten it into my head that I wanted to be a Benedictine Oblate. I felt this after being swept up by the romance of Kathleen Norris’ The Cloister Walk. I dove in. I found a monastery in Indiana that took long distance oblates and began my investiture. Basically I was supposed to pray daily, read as much of The Liturgy of the Hours as I could fit into my normal life and read prescribed selections from the The Rule of Saint Benedict each day.
It didn’t take me long to discover that I was not, never had been, and never would be that disciplined. I’m strong minded, some would say pigheaded. My charity and my bent toward hospitality are marbled with a vein of vanity and selfishness. My humility takes a back seat to my hubris. In short I am not Oblate material. This didn’t stop me from trying over and over again because one thing I hate is failure and not finishing what I started smacked of that dread emotion.
Every once in a while the little red book of The Rule calls to me to give it another once-over. Although many, including contemporary Benedictines, say that The Rule doesn’t translate completely into our day and age I still find it difficult to translate much of it at all. I find it difficult, for example, to accept their rule against laughter. I love laughter. I love inducing it in others. I love having it induced in me. I love puns and jokes and other idle chatter that leads me and the people around me to chuckle, snicker, and guffaw with abandon.
I have trouble with reading prescribed Scripture each and every day, repetitions week over week. Repetition causes them to become rote and dry. They lose their flavor. Their impact wanes. I understand that it is intended to invoke a sense of discipline but as noted above discipline is not my strong suit. I don’t feel closer to God when reading The Liturgy every day. I rarely feel as if God is listening and I occasionally find myself playing with The Liturgy readings, seeing if I can make them sound like iambic pentameter or finding phrases that have a haiku rhythm. Somehow I think that’s falling short of the point.
As I get older I find that while my church of choice is the Catholic Church (at least for the time being) that I am an uncomfortable Catholic. I’m not even all that solid a Christian in many people’s eyes. I see in the Gospels where Jesus told us the most important commandment was to worship God with all our heart, mind and soul, and the second most important was to love our neighbor as ourselves. Those two things are fairly important. The rest of it all is sauce. Some people like some bolognaise and others like putanesca. Some like gravy, some like béchamel. I figure as long as you are loving God and loving your neighbor you’re doing better than most. If praying The Liturgy of the Hours brings you closer to God then by all means pray it. If it doesn’t have that effect then put it aside. Don’t force it down your throat. If reading the Tao Te Ching or Talmud or Kaballah invokes the Divine for you then read them. Some days it means something to me to stop by the Church, light a candle and sit before the Eucharist. Other days I get more of a spiritual boost and feel closer to God driving through the countryside, all the windows open and blaring Ricky Martin on the stereo.
The Rule of Saint Benedict isn’t bad. It just isn’t for everyone, certainly not for me. Is it a worthwhile read? Sure. It is historic, for some it is spiritual, and somewhere in there it has something to say to everyone. You just may have to hunt for it. And don’t be surprised or put off if what it says is, “I’m not for you.” There is as much peace in that as there is in the opposite.
© 2014 M. Romeo LaFlamme