The one who is to be received should take a vow in the oratory in front of everyone: he [sic] must promise stability, conversion of his way of life and obedience before God and his saints…
These three vows that Benedict asked the first monastics to make are the same three vows that oblates of The World Community for Christian Meditation are invited to make at their final oblation. Before the taking of these vows oblates write in their own hand the following:
I commit myself to the service of God and humanity as an oblate of The World Community for Christian Meditation. I take and accept the Rule of St. Benedict as my guide and promise to live in the spirit of obedience, stability, and conversion, and to share always in the life and work of our community.
This document is then signed by the oblate. All this happens in the presence of family, friends and community members. More often than not this signing takes place in a church and on the altar.
Stability, at its deepest, is a commitment to being in touch and living out of our deep inner being. This, over time, has us growing in a “calmness and peace of mind” and deepening in a “rootedness in the Spirit” (1). Obedience is, ultimately, about being attuned enough in spirit to the Word of God (that creative dynamic of divine Love embodied in Jesus Christ) “which resonates in all peoples and all situations” as well as “a quick responsiveness to this Word.” Conversion is about embracing the reality of the human journey as a pilgrimage “living an ongoing conversion of one’s way of life by an ever-fuller harmony with the principles of peace, tolerance, selflessness and generosity and the courage to say the truth about injustice.”
In these vows the oblate finds a context and a support to live the journey we are all on into the rediscovery and expression of who we most deeply are, and the encounter with the God who makes this who we are possible. Within this journey is the invitation divinity makes to all humanity: discover your basic unity with the Divine and grow in the living of your life from this unity. Living into this unity is to experience a deep contentment and purpose that nothing else and no one else can give.
Meditation, of course, is the pivotal prayer work for the oblate, and the Christian meditator generally, on this journey. Stability, conversion, and obedience can manifest in the life of anyone as they commit to the contemplative and human way.
It is interesting to note that James Bishop, in his commentary on the Rule, (‘A Way in the Wilderness’), describes an oblate as “a monk who lives outside the monastery” (181) that is, a man or woman not living in a cloistered community. Laurence Freeman has described oblates of the WCCM as “the monks of the Monastery Without Walls”. We are woman and men – single, partnered, married, with families and careers – being monastic and contemplative while living within the commitments and challenges of today’s world.
This chapter from the Rule shows us the communal and personal nature of a Christian vow. A vow, no matter its relational context (married, priest, or monastic for example) is a promise to manifest God in the world through self and relationship. Our deepest self is relational and cannot be anything else. Any vow is a commitment to this deepest self.
We live out our vows as we grow in love. The Christian revelation of God is Love-In-Communion. Growing in this love can only be done communally and practically. We grow into this God who is Love as we live out the challenges of deepening into love in our vowed and loving relationships as we live each day.
Then the novices prostrate themselves at the feet of each member to ask for prayers, and from that very day they are to be counted as one of the community.
The community is both a support and a witness. Often the witness aspect of communal involvement has been highlighted at the expense of a focus on any ongoing commitment from the community gathered to support those making vows. Support is about providing loving help when needed and asked for. It is not about lip service and the attitude that a communal vow is the business of only those making the vow. Yes, the vow is the responsibility, ultimately, of those making it. The community is there to support the vower as they grow into the responsibility of the vows they have taken (a life-long journey).
At Meditatio House, like in any community in which there are people who are ‘undergoing’ a vowed life, we are invited to support each other. This can be a real challenge as we experience personal tensions and reactions to each other, and as people come and go with their differing ideas of what community is and their differing expectations of what they can and will not do from day to day. In the midst of all this we meditate together, attending to that loving Reality which is already with us in our relating. As we attend to this Reality tensions soften in the allowing of divine Love to change us. We discover the gift of compassion growing in us for ourselves and each other because we have chosen to live with each other and meditate together amid the challenges.
Receive me, O Lord, according to your words and I shall live; and do not disappoint me in my hope (Psalm 119:116).
(1) Quotations describing the three vows in this paragraph are taken from ‘Monastics in the World’ by Laurence Freeman. See here for the full text.