Sunday, January 25, 2009

I'm just back from our annual oblate retreat at New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur. Fifteen of us gathered for three days of sharing the daily offices--Vigils, Lauds, Eucharist, Vespers--along with evening meditation before the Host. In between, we congregated in the chapter room near Rubelov's haunting icon of the Theotokos for presentations on Christian mysticism. Fr. Daniel, a longtime Franciscan friar before becoming a Camaldolese hermit fourteen years ago, spoke eloquently about Franciscan spirituality of the heart. Fr. Bruno described Thomas Merton's apophatic form of mysticism--the way of darkness. Fr. Robert spoke about the deceptively simple but utterly rigorous mindfulness of the 14th century Carmelite Brother Lawrence in the Practice of the Presence of God; he also presented a sesssion about the vertical path into mystery taken by the anonymous author of The Cloud of Unknowing.

As I looked around the chapter room at these longtime oblate friends of mine, I was struck by the varied ways in which we've tried to live out the vow--to become lay monastics in a busy, high-pressure world. And I realized that despite the very real differences in our lives, we're united by several tendencies. First, we love the monks, from whom most of us receive spiritual direction along with friendship and support. Second, we genuinely love the liturgical structure of the monastic life. Third, we've almost all left demanding careers for something more tenuous and less profitable. And finally, most of us have done considerable simplifying.

Have we struggled along the way? Yes, we have. But the rewards have been unbelievable, which is why I was moved to begin this blog.

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