April 2020 Oblate Lectio Divina and Discussion
Topic: Lent Sources: Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 49; John 11:45-56
“We dwell in grief and despair to be surprised into life again with resurrection—each year we are invited to make this sacred journey together.” –Engaging Benedict, Laura Swan
As Oblates of Christ the King Priory we “make this sacred journey together” meeting once a month for connection, prayer, and study. We gather in Schuyler, Nebraska on the second Saturday of the month for our Oblate meeting including morning prayers, Lectio Divina, Mass, lunch, and discussions both in full and small groups.
Yet, in this time of uncertainty when we cannot meet in person, we still crave the connectedness and the spiritual grounding of our Oblate promises. Being creative problem-solvers, several of our oblates organized a Zoom event for our April meeting. Fr. Volker reflects, “It worked out beyond any expectation and was a wonderful event. Our social media technology and the present challenging Coronavirus Pandemic turn out to be a hidden blessing.” We had 28 Oblates participate, many who typically cannot make the day trip for our monthly meeting. We started as we usually do with a few announcements, prayers and Lectio Divina, each in our own home, and yet we were together.
Our Lectio Divina reading:
There were many words and phrases that resonated with us:
You know nothing. Gather into one. What are we going to do? If we leave him alone. Began to believe in him. All will believe in him. Jesus would die for the nation. They looked for Jesus. The whole nation may not perish. What do you think? Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews.
The layers of meaning in this Gospel reading are inexhaustible, especially as we consider the impact of the pandemic during Lent—
Gather into one. We are all connected—the coronavirus makes no distinction between race, economic status, political party, or any other difference. We are in this fight together; putting up walls between us is not helpful. God can use this pandemic to show that we are all one. There is hope in this time of uncertainty—families and friends that are scattered across the country are more intentional about connecting online, churches are live-streaming their services, and small groups are keeping in touch with letters, emails, phone calls, and texts. We are separate, and yet we are together. Easter is a reminder that God’s love was sent to us in Jesus for everyone. We are all one Body.
What are we going do? What are we called to do in times of uncertainty, even danger? The medical community is being called to serve the sick without protective gear; they are emotionally and physically exhausted. This is a time for humility and gratitude, and time to ask ourselves “What is it that I am going to do?”
How shall we deal with the crowd? The people who had put their faith in Jesus, who supported his message, are faced with what to do—stand with Jesus or be loyal to those in power? Those in power feared that if he were left alone, many more would come to believe in him. They were fearful of Jesus because they would lose their power. To maintain their status quo, they need to eliminate him. They, and we, are afraid to lose what we have, the power we have gained, the stuff we have accumulated, the privilege we feel we have earned. Ultimately, we know Jesus was betrayed by one and many—those in power, motivated by envy, could not stand to be compromised. We must ask ourselves also, how we shall deal with “the crowd”? How do we respond to those who suffer from lack of income supports, health care, child care, and so much that we take for granted, and will be particularly impacted during the economic challenges of the pandemic?
Jesus no longer walked about in public among the Jews. Jesus chose when he put himself out there. He had a time of withdrawal, either alone or with his disciples. Was his withdrawal a time of preparation for Holy Week? Is this a time of withdrawal for us to prepare for what is next? In Ecclesiastes, there is “a time to be born and a time to die,” maybe now is the time to withdraw and reflect. This time can bear much fruit—and already has.
We consider what St. Benedict had to say about Lent in Chapter 49 of The Rule.
Many of us shared that observing Lent has become one with the virus. Many of us started out with good intentions of sacrifice and prayer but then surrendered to the circumstances of the virus. It is through ordinary life that God gives us our spiritual work—and ordinary life just got more difficult. We are challenged to be gentle with each other living in close quarters. And for those we cannot see, it is a journey of letting go. We are adjusting to this new normal, for how long we do not know—practicing patience in the face of the unknown and trying to figure out a schedule or routine. We navigate our private soul journey but not forgetting others in the process. We consider how to be present to others when we can’t be together while being intentional about connecting with those we can.
I shared that the image of water and “to wash away” has taken on new meaning for me during the pandemic. We are encouraged to religiously and vigorously wash our hands to both protect ourselves and to keep others from harm. We do not see the virus when we are washing (so often like our own faults) but the act of washing heightens our awareness and our intention to cleanse, purify, to wash away. Fr. Volker added that during Holy Week, foot washing is an expression of our faith and a sign of respect. We can add this intention when washing our hands— consider it “holy water”, a sign of faith and respect.
In closing, Fr. Volker shared a reflection on a Russian icon and a prayer by Lynn Unger.
What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel.
Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now,
on trying to make the world
different than it is.
Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life.
And when your body has become still,
reach out with your heart.
Know that we are connected
in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.
(You could hardly deny it now.)
Know that our lives
are in one another’s hands.
(Surely, that has come clear.)
Do not reach out your hands.
Reach out your heart.
Reach out your words.
Reach out all the tendrils
of compassion that move, invisibly,
where we cannot touch.
Promise this world your love—
for better or for worse,
in sickness and in health,
so long as we all shall live.
We must give up trying to change what is happening and become ever more connected “in ways that are terrifying and beautiful.” Instead of reaching out hands or arms, we must reach out with our hearts in compassion.
After our meeting, many of us attended a virtual Mass at Christ the King Priory (see them on Facebook for live-streamed Vespers, Compline, and daily Mass).
Rule of St. Benedict
New American Bible
Study Guide for the Rule of St. Benedict with Reflections for Oblates and All Who Seek God, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB, pages 20-23