April 1, August 1, December 1
Monks who work so far away that they cannot return to the oratory at the proper time – and the abbot determines that this is the case – are to perform the work of God where they are, and kneel out of reverence for God.
So too, those who have been sent on a journey are not to omit the prescribed hours but to observe them as best they can, not neglecting their measure of service.
The rule was written for people who choose to live together physically in one place. There is something about this dynamic of physicality that brings out the embodied nature of what it means to grow in love. Effective community is about the psychological ‘bumps’ and ‘rubs’ that we gift each other with as we live together. Effective community is also about the centrality of a prayer life actually done together. The two complement each other. Community members at a distance from this physical community can miss out on these psychological and spiritual aspects. Because they are not under the same roof, they risk being out of touch with an environment that may be growing good fruit in its participants.
This chapter is of great significance to The World Community for Christian Meditation (WCCM). the WCCM has been called a ‘monastery without walls’. In the context of this chapter and a rule dedicated to nurturing love in a physical environment (one ‘with walls’), can the WCCM even refer to the rule for guidance at all?
Let’s look briefly at these two aspects – the ‘bumps’ and ‘rubs’ and the praying together. Can these be effectively lived by members living and working at a distance from each other?
The WCCM exists for the practice, support, and teaching of Christian meditation. Its roots are in the Benedictine expression of Christianity. The monastic lenses of both John Main and Laurence Freeman (Benedictine monks) have shaped and are shaping the way the WCCM engages with the world. Today, through daily reading and teaching (whether book, audio, or video), podcasts, and internet resources any member of the WCCM can be formed and informed by teaching especially tailored to their meditation practice.
In a real sense, for the WCCM oblate, the weekly meditation group, the cell group, as well as our own place of daily meditation are the oratory. The cell group (oblates meeting regularly for reading, fellowship, and meditation) and our own meditation are especially significant because they also include praying with the psalms and scripture in much the same way that the rule recommends.
The weekly meditation group is a wonderful support generally for anyone growing in the daily contemplative practice of meditation. The leader of the weekly group is someone with enough experience in meditation to know just how important meditation is to a person seeking life and love. They also know that shared meditation can create community, wherever this meditation is taking place.
The ‘bumps’ and ‘rubs’ of lives committed to each other in love are not the exclusive experiences of the cloistered monastic. A commitment to the same meditation group, and meditation with this group, can have within it the bumping and rubbing that happens when people come together to seek God and authenticity. If at least one person in your meditation group is annoying, then praise God! Within this annoyance are the seeds of an inner transformation that meditation can help facilitate.
Perhaps the key aspect to living the rule, wherever this living happens, is that the rule shapes the communal environment in such a way as to minimise the ways in which we tend to avoid the invitations to growth that happen in life generally. Benedict wants a compassionate environment dedicated to honesty. Often a commitment to honesty can be messy and tense (ask any mother, father, and their children). Any relational commitment to the experience of love and honesty can be shaped and informed by the practical nature of the rule. This is how it is for the oblate of the WCCM and anyone of the WCCM community generally dedicated to the contemplative path. The way of a contemplative is the way of authenticity, of honesty, at times both apart and together.
I shall come to you after I have passed through Macedonia, as I have to go through Macedonia; perhaps I shall stay some time or even winter with you, so that you can start me on my next journey, wherever I may be going. I do not want to see you only in passing, and I hope to spend quite a time with you, the Lord permitting. (1 Cor. 16:5-7, RNJB)