The Rule of Benedict 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 physically 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 the Rule of Benedict for guidance at all? Are the oblates of the WCCM really oblates of a monastery if this monastery does not exist in the one physical space?
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, as is the WCCM global reality?
The WCCM exists for the practice, support, and teaching of the Christian meditation experience. 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 formats), podcasts, and internet resources (such as radio) 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 sacred 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 the Rule recommends.
The weekly meditation group is a wonderful support generally for anyone who is attempting to grow 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, where ever 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, soon has 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 you then praise God! Within this annoyance are the seeds of an inner transformation that meditation will facilitate.
Perhaps the key aspect to living the Rule of Benedict, where ever 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 and integration 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 wife, husband 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 dedicated to the contemplative path. The way of a contemplative is the way of authenticity, of honesty.
So what about Meditatio House? What is its purpose in light of this chapter? Meditatio House exists within the WCCM to form oblates in the Rule. Paradoxically, novice oblate monastics travel great distances to be a part of the house community. After a time at the house (6 months, 12 months), oblates, or anyone who lives with the house community, can take something of the spirit of the Rule away with them. This spirit is lived and deepened in their families, their work, with their friends, fellow oblates, and in their meditation groups.
Meditatio House also exists to help people become established in their meditation practice. In time the house provides stability in practice which people can take with them back into their lives.
A learning that comes out of our meditation in community is that the time for meditation is non-negotiable. Often the challenges of living at Meditatio House can only be negotiated because an hour and a half of meditation is a part of the life. This experience helps root the mantra deeper in the heart, to the extent that it is experienced as the priority in the midst of priorities. A business executive, a busy parent, someone in crisis – anyone who feels that they are overwhelmed by their lives – all can discover and practice meditation as the priority if it becomes important enough.
Through experience we all can discover just how powerful a deep commitment to meditation can be. With it and within life Christ transforms each of us uniquely into himself. Love grows to be our nature.