Tag Archives: the Rule of Benedict

Meditatio House: Sorting Out the Rubbish

To be fit for the great task of life, we must learn to be faithful in humble tasks. (John Main)

The sixth step of humility is that we are content with the lowest [position] and most menial treatment, and regard ourselves as a poor and worthless worker in whatever task we are given… (The Rule of St. Benedict)

At Meditatio House we share around the chores, those things that need to be done to maintain a household. We share in the cooking, the cleaning, and yard tasks, anything that needs doing. This is thoroughly in keeping with the ordinary practice of living, and consistent with the Rule of Benedict. We use the Rule as a guide for our communal commitment and experience.

The Rule of Benedict is a wisdom text for the Christian spiritual life. The Rule is a guide to the integration of communal and personal living so that both serve a human life growing in love and the experience of this love as divine. It is a practical document that sees growing into love as an applied, ordinary, self-forgetting, and relational happening (1).

The three basic dynamics of the Rule are prayer, reading, and work. Prayer is central and has a communal foundation; reading is food for the intellect and heart; and work (anything from writing to lawn mowing) asks for a focus that is less on self and more on the needs of the community at hand. These three dynamics are, of course, interchangeable: prayer is also a work and work, when done with present moment attention, is prayer; reading can also be a work of attention, and a prayer (Lectio Divina). And so on.

One task we take turns at doing is dealing with the rubbish and food scraps. There are three bins in our kitchen: one for plastics, one for paper, and one for non-recyclable rubbish. There is also a couple of ‘bucket bins’ near the sink that receive compostable scraps and non-compostable scraps. Once a week everything gets sorted into separate containers which then get put out onto the street for collection. There is even a street container for non-recyclable scraps (other scraps are put in the compost out the back). This scrap container can be particularly messy and smelly.

Of all the household tasks we do, maintaining the rubbish and preparing it for collection would have to be the most menial.

The Rule sees this sorting of the household rubbish as part of our growth in self-knowledge and humility.

It is a task that has the potential to help create in someone a deeper appreciation of their own humanity. All a person need do is be faithful to the task and gently attentive to their responses and reactions whilst doing it. As we work with our bodies we can become aware of what God is doing with our soul.

Our lives, like scraps and rubbish, can be rather commonplace and somewhat messy. The conscious mind (or ego) can tend to avoid (largely via repression) the ‘mess’ of us and be inclined to reject the reality that we are just another ordinary, everyday, commonplace person.

Yet contemplative prayer and community can help us to see that the ordinary and everyday is where we experience our deep, mysterious and divinely given uniqueness. It is a uniqueness that the ego does not create, although the ego does try to cover it up with its own version of uniqueness (a version that generally wants to avoid the mess and rubbish).

The discovery of our unique selves can involve facing, experiencing, and accepting our own psychological mess. This process engenders humility. Ego shuns humility because it would mean this repressed mess is becoming conscious and being integrated (faced, experienced, and accepted). Meditation and community living assist this integration via their focus on keeping us attentive to God and our deep selves in an other-centred context.

Psychological integration that happens in other-centred environments (one such as a prayerful community) means the slow death of egocentricity. This can be quite a challenge for us.

Egocentricity is that pattern of life where a person has been fooled into the belief that ego is the centre of consciousness and must remain as such if the person is to survive and thrive. The hidden assumption is that all of life’s happenings must first pass through the prism of the conscious mind. For this to even have a chance of happening ego must exert lots of energy to maintain the illusion that it is the centre of our universe. We are all, to some extent, egocentric.

When our inner mess starts to leak into our conscious mind (as it does) this is a threat to ego’s command and control illusion. So it pushes back with repression and more attempts at control. This can last only so long. As our mess seeps in, ego’s control falters. As egocentricity is threatened this gives opportunity for a growth in humility. This is why egocentricity sees humility as weakness: humility is about the de-centring of ego. And as humility grows, it lays the ground for a healthy maturing into other-centredness and God.

Without humility there can be no authentic transformation in God and no discovery of our true selves in God. A lack of humility is a sign that we are still too caught up in the operations of egocentricity.

The root of the word ‘humility’ is the Latin word humus, which means soil or earth. In other words, to be down to earth, being realistic, honest and truthful, to avoid the temptation to act as if we are the divine centre of the universe (2).

Food scraps, though messy and smelly, are tomorrow’s rich humus.

Doing menial and messy everyday tasks can run counter to ego’s attempts at avoiding the mess of life, its own de-centring, and humility. Continuing in these menial and messy tasks, then, is important if we are to continue away from egocentricity and into the heart of God.

Sorting the rubbish is a down to earth practice. It can encourage in us a developing self-honesty. In this way it is not unlike meditation. Meditation is about engaging in the daily, down to earth practice of experiencing and embracing the truth of life; doing so faithfully with diminishing expectation. This can sound like a waste of time to an ego that wants enlightenment yesterday and on its terms.

(1) The community at Meditatio House produce a blog called The Rule of Benedict: Reflections From Christian Meditators. Have a look.

(2) Peter Ng, ‘The Contemplative Executive’, in John Main: The Expanding Vision (29).


Meditatio House: An Evolving Monasticism

There has been some discussion at Meditatio House lately around the questions: what is an oblate, and how does an oblate differ from a monk?

It seems that from the very beginning of the Rule of Benedict the idea of what a monastic is has been open for development and change. In Benedict’s time to be monastic meant following one of four ways:

A cenobite was a monastic living with other monastics, with an abbot as leader and a rule as a guide.

Anchorites or hermits were monastics mature in mind and body that chose to live alone, often in deserts. Formally cenobites, their life in community had left them mature enough to experience, day by day, the challenges of living alone before themselves and God.

Sarabaites did not live with a rule to provide guidance, or with established leadership. They lived together or alone.

Gyrovagues are described by Benedict as rootless wanderers who often moved from monastery to monastery using the hospitality of cenobites as they went.

Benedict wrote his rule for cenobite monastics. Today these monks are known simply as monks.

Across the centuries, as cenobite communities became more established, parents would offer their children to monasteries in the hope of a better life for these children. They would be oblatus (Latin) or ‘offered’. When they reached an appropriate age they would be given the choice to remain in the monastery or to leave. Some would remain and yet, for some reason, not take the vows of a cenobite monastic. Others would leave and still maintain contact with the community they had left. They did this, presumably, because they felt that they were still a part of the monastic community that had reared them. Soon this way of living with cenobite monks (whether physically and/or spiritually) became formalised and named as being an oblate. In time one did not need to be reared in a monastery to become an oblate. A more general resonance and association with a monastery was enough.

Today there are many monastic communities around the world that have oblates. They are men and women who are drawn to a monastic spirituality and the way of being monastic that a particular monastic community may embody. Rather than take the vows of a cenobite monk, they vow the life of a cenobite oblate. They are married or single, with families and careers. Their commitment to community is not of a cloistered nature. Their challenge is to live a monastically real commitment to community and divinity in the day to day of their own lives.

The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM) offers the option to all meditators of becoming Benedictine oblates. Laurence Freeman (Benedictine monk and current Director of the WCCM) explains that from the very beginning of the life of the WCCM “equal value” was given

to the forms of commitment made by monks or oblates. Oblates in his [John Main, the WCCM’s founder] vision were not merely “attached” to a monastic family; they were fully participatory and contributing members. This represented both a return to an ancient tradition and an important new development*.

This being the case, it follows that a monk and an oblate monastic – in their own unique ways, through their participation in, and contributions to the WCCM monastic family – both have equal opportunity to pursue a full cenobite monastic maturity in their own lives. If this were not the case, it would mean that either one commitment is being valued more than the other, or that one commitment is somehow superior to the other.

What, exactly, is monastic maturity? Monastic maturity is nothing less than human maturity. This is, simply, the forgetting of self. The ego (self-consciousness) comes to be (more or less) integrated with the whole of one’s consciousness. A transformation of the psyche has happened to the extent that the inner life is at the service of divine Love and not the preservation of ego centredness. This Love resides deep in our spiritual centre. It pours forth into the world, through us, from this centre. A communion of divine Being with our being is at this centre. Monastic maturing is about the whole of the person (not just our centre) coming to be in communion with this divine life.

Each maturing human and monastic is a blooming and unique expression of divine Love, co-creating in the world with the divine life.

Each monastic, like everyone with faith in a loving God, can look to this God to be the One who heals, who integrates this inner life via grace. This looking is a searching in life for the God who is already with us. The human struggle to live in loving ways is often all the motivation needed to seek out our own healing.

To be a monastic is to place first in life this searching: to seek God. With all of one’s heart and mind. The rest of life falls into place around this commitment. A monastic, whether monk or oblate, is simply living out the teaching of the Jewish Jesus made to everyone with ears to hear

This is the first [commandment] listen, Israel, the Lord our God is the one, only Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: you must love your neighbour as yourself. (Mark 12:29-30).

A monastic seeks God so that we may love God, ourselves, and neighbour in growing fullness. Only God (who is Love) can bring about this fullness in us. In other words, a monastic lives a committed Christianity.

The challenge of this seeking, for oblate and monk alike, is to live a life that nourishes the contemplative roots of our humanity. Nourish the roots and God will be found. Over the centuries of Christianity, the monk monastic has had the advantage of a dedicated and cloistered life that, at its best, serves this contemplative end. The times, however, are a-changing. As we know, to be a cenobite monastic no longer means just to be a monk. Within the WCCM, the commitment of oblate is a facing into the cutting edge of a new expression of monasticism.

John Main laid groundwork for this facing into as he taught with confident perseverance that the Christian meditator meditate for at least 20 minutes (preferably 30 minutes) every morning and every evening of their lives. The WCCM oblate adds to this commitment a prayer life that includes the Office of the church (used by monk monastics for centuries), as well as a commitment to the teaching of Christian meditation. This prayer life contributes to the contemplative shaping of the human and monastic life of the oblate. And that’s when things can get really interesting because a life growing in contemplation is a life open to the life of God. A life open to the life of God is a life invited to change.

Meditatio House is, at its heart, an experiment in the evolving nature of what a lived monasticism can be. Oblates come together here to live out, in a Benedictine way, the journey into monastic and Christian maturity. We are like a flower spending time in a hot house to promote its growth. After this time we, like the flower, return to our garden – our own communities and families. We return to face the challenge of human and monastic maturing in our own environments.

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Because of our Meditatio House experience we may see that our environment needs some renewing if we are to keep maturing into God. This has always been the challenge for monk and oblate alike. A contemplative life is a human life open to change. This challenge is happening across the globe for WCCM oblates who seek God – meditating and sincerely living out our life vows of stability, conversion, and obedience in our own communities.

Recently Laurence Freeman took a trip to Turkey. While there he visited the (long empty) cave monasteries of Cappadocia. After the visit, in a column for The Tablet Laurence wrote

If you linger back alone [to the caves] you might experience a sense of wonder and great respect for the intensity of their seeking and also a painful feeling of loss. Where did all this well-directed zeal go? Did it peter out here as some of the monasteries became more dependent on rich local patrons? Or was it whisked away to new places whose time it was to manifest the deepest aspiration of the human for union with God? Is spiritual capital re-invested or does it return to its source?

Spiritual capital is being re-invested today in the places where this zeal for union with God is manifesting. The WCCM is one such place and the life of an oblate of the WCCM is a new monastic expression of this zeal. I feel it in me. My whole life is being shaped by it. This “well-directed zeal” is an expression of monastic equality when it is enacted in the lives of monk and oblate.

The same fruits of monastic maturity that drew people to the desert Fathers and Mothers of the early church, such as those in Cappadocia, and to committed monks and nuns for centuries, are also present and growing in the lives of committed oblate monastics today. In time more people will see and come to accept the deep authenticity of the wise and mature oblate monastic.

* This quote is taken from the article Monastics in the World. See recommended links: Oblates of The World Community for Christian Meditation.


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