June 2020 Oblate Reflections and Lectio Divina
Topic: Involvement or Detachment?
Sources: Matthew 6: 24-24; Study Guide for The Rule of St. Benedict, pages 119-123, Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB
The focus of our June Oblate Zoom meeting is to explore our attachment to the world. A challenging question: How much are we to involve ourselves in improving our present world, while we are waiting and praying for a better world to come? We consider what St. Benedict teaches us about a balanced approach to the world that he was living in and about our outlook on living with the crisis of the coronavirus pandemic and the worldwide outcry for justice and end of racism.
We begin with morning prayer followed by sharing the challenges and blessings of living in this moment in time. Our challenges are many—because of the pandemic, it is difficult to not see others and we are missing our family and friends (and hugs!), there is uncertainty about how to reach out to others, and some of us suffer from PTSD, paranoia, negative thoughts, or anxiety. It is a time of letting go for many of us—there have been deaths, transitions in relationships and an adjustment of moving from old to new ways of doing things.
Life is different now. We live in uncertainty and some fear, not knowing what precautions to take—what is too much or too little in protecting our health, or what might offend another who responds to social distancing differently. We desire a middle way— to be in the world, carefully, but not looking at other people as a big germ. Finally, it is a challenge during this time of unrest, protest, and anger to see the world as it is, not as I want it to be. It is an opportunity to listen to how I am to respond to systemic racism, to withhold judgement and defensiveness, to educate myself, and to recognize there are things broken in the world. Evaluating how am I to respond and staying hopeful is essential.
“…we have to let go of all the attaches us to this world. We must become empty so that God may be all in all.” -Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB
It feels as if we have no control over anything, a challenge indeed—but it is also an opportunity to practice surrender. It is a blessing to remove myself from solving all the world’s problems and to give it to God. There are many other blessings as well: the liturgy that is ever-present, health, financial or job security, technology and the ability to join in prayer and connection with those from miles away, creative celebrations and being together in different ways, time with family, a slower speed, time to do things we have been wanting to do, nature and the unfolding of beauty. There are so many blessings, and, in some ways, we are more attuned to the simple things than ever before.
St. Benedict is convinced that we find God everywhere; that all creation is sacred and can lead us to God. -Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB
Father Volker leads us in a prayer written by Richard Rohr after we share:
Let us be present to the now. It’s all we have and it’s where God will always speak to us. The now holds everything, rejects nothing and, therefore, can receive God too. Help us, God, to be present to the place we most fear, because it always feels empty, it always feels boring, it always feels like it’s not enough. Help us find some space within that we don’t try to fill with ideas or opinions. Help us find space so you, loving God, can show yourself in that place where we are hungry and empty. Keep us out of the way, so there is always room enough for you. Good God, we believe that you are here and your presence gives us hope. We thank you for each day of our lives. We thank you for so many further chances to understand, to forgive again, to trust again, and to love. We thank you that we live now, that our problems are soul-sized. We ask that you teach us and lead us, that you put the thoughts into our mind that you want us to think, the feelings in our hearts that you want us to feel. Reconstruct us. Put us together because we don’t know how to do it ourselves. We trust that you are hearing this prayer, and that you care for the answer more than we do. We pray therefore not alone, but with the whole body of Christ in Jesus’s name. Amen.
—from The Wisdom Pattern: Order, Disorder, Reorder by Richard Rohr, OFM
Lectio Divina: We read Matthew 6: 23-34.
Words and phrases that resonated with us:
You cannot serve two masters: For Benedict, it was not a problem to have material possessions, but it is necessary to use them in service of others. If you are mastered by your things, it occupies your mind and you are always worried about them. What you worry about dominates your thoughts—the scripture is clear about not worrying. It will not make your life better. Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and then you will have what you need. Keep the love of God and others, the planet on which we live, first. If we do not worry about getting a six-week supply of toilet paper or how many books we have, we can focus on service of others. Benedict says we should not murmur about what we do not have, we should not desire for more, but instead to use what we have in service of others.
In considering consumerism vs. our environment, we cannot serve two masters. We need to carefully consider what are our needs vs. wants and how our actions affect others. We must balance every decision we make with how it impacts others.
We must get involved with questions of the environment; we have to take a stand and do our share to help make a change. We have to get involved—if Christ hadn’t gotten involved, we would not be redeemed. We must make conscious decisions.
St. Benedict usually takes a position in the middle. It is not a question of either/or, but both in the right balance. -Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB
Oh you of little faith: We desire to be useful, but sometimes we feel like we aren’t doing enough to help others, especially in this time of pandemic when we feel so restricted. As Benedict said, pray AND work. We need to remember that prayer is part of our work; prayer is active, and praying is being there for others. Surrendering to prayer is letting go of our desire to do more, to control our productivity. It is hard these days because of our lack of human touch and our ability to interact physical—this is another kind of surrendering. We are surrendering what it is WE want.
Learn from the way the wildflowers grow: The birds and the wildflowers are just being who they are—we can be who we are, being present in spirit for someone, knowing this is enough. We must trust God to use us in being who we are, although things may have to be done in a different way. It can make us uncomfortable to not be able to do the things that make us feel useful. Again, we must remember—pray and work, ora et labor, the message of Pentecost. We need both/and not one or the other.
The little things we do for each other is how we help others. The flowers just have to be, the birds just do their thing. The Psalmist writes—Be still and know that I am God. Here is the rub—we want to be god-like. Despite our limits, in our brokenness, we must offer the gift of God to others. It is more than prayer. St. Benedict talks about little things, the monotony of things, that they are still a gift of God. Nothing is really our own…we are God’s gift. Even our very selves are NOT our own.
“All labor requires attachment and detachment alike…All journeys require a letting go of the place where we presently are in order to move on to new ground; all growth and conversion, all maturation involve a turning from childish and imperfect things in order to embrace a new stage, even though we often do not yet fully see or know this stage.” -Maria-Thomas Beil, OSB
Fr. Volker shares this poem that express this both/and idea, not being one-sided or extreme:
I am both.
I am both.
I am enraged and saddened.
I am aware and questioning.
I am at a loss for words and fumbling
through my thoughts.
I am scared and broken.
I am watching and praying.
I am listening and vocal.
I am praying for the Black community and praying for those in law enforcement.
I am reading to gain understanding and
wondering if there will ever be a resolution.
I am turning off the news and welcoming the perspectives of others.
I am praising God for diversity and making room for differing views.
I am fighting for injustice and hoping for peace.
I am both.
I cannot ignore the plight of people of color in my country.
I cannot condone the destruction of lives, livelihoods, and landmarks in my country.
I cannot scroll past the brutal death of a Black man as the knee of an officer takes his breath.
I cannot lump all law enforcement as evil and racist.
I cannot ignore privilege.
I cannot change the color of my skin.
I cannot sit quietly as men and women are discarded as unequal.
I cannot live in the silence of guilt.
I am not ignoring.
I am not downplaying.
I am not pretending.
I am not sticking my head in the sand.
I am stumbling and I am praying.
I am seeking and I am longing.
My words are imperfect.
My experience is still limited.
My responsibility is great.
But I am trying.
I am trying to see and be both.
Because the middle of the bridge is the meeting of both.
My heart groans for black lives.
My heart aches for the blue line.
My heart longs for unity.
My heart prays for peace.
My heart is repentant.
My heart seeks reconciliation.
For my greatest hope is the redemption of tomorrow where both and all can come together as one.
In responding to the question—What is it that makes your present life most meaningful? I responded by journaling prior to our meeting. Meaning for me comes from moments of nothingness, of peace and possibility, of space and time to listen and follow the Spirit. Meaning comes from moments of creativity, of connecting words, ideas and images to both feel and share the connectedness and sacredness of living. Meaning is in nature, the details, simple things, beauty. Meaning is in learning new things and reflecting on life lessons. I recall my friend, Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, (who recently passed), saying she would let a difficult time of depression be her teacher. She was still learning. No matter what is happening in one’s life we can learn about ourselves and others and consider what our response should be.
The question was followed by this poem that perfectly captures what a meaningful life is:
A Hollowed Space to Be Filled
A cup must be empty before it can be filled. If it is already full, it can’t be filled again, except by emptying it out.
In order to fill anything, there must be a hollowed-out space. Otherwise, it can’t receive.
This is especially true of God’s word. In order to receive it, we must be hollowed out. We must be capable of receiving it, emptied of the false self and its endless demands.
When Christ came, there was no room in the inn.. It was full. The inn is a symbol of the heart. God’s word, Christ, can take root only in a hollow.
-William Breault SJ
My prayer intention:
Prayers for stability, obedience, and conversion of life. Prayers that we STAY in the moment, to not run from the pain of the challenges of the day; to listen and discern our response to these challenges; to be willing to change our thoughts and actions in the ongoing conversion of life. May we follow the core beliefs of St. Benedict to remain committed to the spiritual journey but also bring Christ into the world. Teach us to make our present life most meaningful despite the challenges and uncertainty in our life and world.