April 3, August 3, December 3

The oratory ought to be what it is called, and nothing else is to be stored there. After the Work of God, all should leave in complete silence and with reverence for God, so that a monk who may wish to pray alone will not be disturbed by the insensitivity of another. Moreover, if at other times someone chooses to pray privately, they may simply go in and pray, not in a loud voice, but with tears and heartfelt devotion. Accordingly, anyone who does not pray in this manner is not to remain in the oratory after the work of God, as we have said; then they will not interfere with anyone else.  

A modern rival to the spiritual and human life is multi-tasking. Doing more than one thing at a time can disperse attention, removing it from the present moment. Multi-tasking is the antithesis of meditation. Meditation is the practice of attention on the one thing – the mantra. This practice trains us in the art of living life generally with attention on the one thing, now. This is a part of simplicity, of simple living. The mantra focuses our attention on the Divine and on simple being. Multi-tasking is all about attention dispersed across doing.    

Benedict does not want us multi-tasking the oratory. It is a space for prayer, nothing more. This seems obvious and right. We need a physical space of focus that can help us encounter the God who is everywhere. In this dedicated space, we learn to be with the experience of this everywhere God. We then take this experience into the spaces and places outside the oratory and so come to see the presence of God outside the oratory. Life then can become a prayer.

If the oratory, the meditation room, or our prayer spaces generally, have things in them that obscure the purpose of that space, clutter it and distract our attention away from the work of prayer, then the space works against the giving of attention wholly to the presence of God in prayer. External distraction subtlety complicates the work of meditation. We need all the help we can get if our minds are to become radically simple.   

Meditation develops this simplicity of being uncluttered, both internally and externally. In time we may find ourselves de-cluttering and simplifying the physical of our lives to reflect the developing experience of freedom, space, and simplicity happening within us. We find ourselves and our environment becoming delightfully congruent and harmonious.     

Learning to live with and in silence is simply another aspect of a life de-cluttering. Using fewer words is the same as throwing out those boxes gathering dust under the bed, or that pile of magazines in the living room. As our internal lives de-clutter, words are used less.  

Speaking in the oratory and not leaving with silence betrays a mind still too caught (for some reason) in the stuff that we use to cover silence and the invitation to simplicity. For a meditating community the meditation room must be the place where we soak in silence, catch it, be in it – then we can take that silence with us. The oratory is the heart that promotes the cause of the heart: stillness in silence so that all can rest in Divine Love and be transformed by it.    

Where is the oratory today in the lives of meditators generally? Do we have a space ‘set aside’ in the home? This simple space set aside can be a reflection of the space within us. This is particularly important as we live each day in a world where physical space is often used in complicated ways. If there is a physical space set aside it means that the meditator has every chance to establish a practice and the mantra can root in the heart. As this happens, we discover our heart as the oratory we take with us into the world.

‘In your prayers do not babble as gentiles do, for they think that by using many words they will make themselves heard. Do not be like them; your Father knows what you need before you ask him.’ (Matt. 6:7-8, RNJB)