I have written several posts recently about my forthcoming clothing as an oblate novice at St. Gregory’s Abbey, an Episcopal Benedictine monastery in Three Rivers, Michigan. Click here to read about my experience at the abbey and how it is that oblates ‘take the monastery with them’ into the world.
Oblates, while not monks or nuns themselves, live in the world according to a version of the Rule of St. Benedict that is adapted to their station in life.
The Latin for ‘Rule’ is Regula. Many will note its similarity to the English ‘regular’, which we often take to mean ‘average’ or ‘mundane’. In point of fact, ‘regular’ technically means ‘according to the rule’. I rather appreciate this coincidence.
I have spent much of my life trying to be exceptional in one sense or another. In high school, I prided myself on being a nonconformist who refused to dress, talk, or think like my peers. Much of this, I think, came from a deep fear of inferiority. I was an anxious and socially awkward teenager. So, I tried to justify this awkwardness by believing that I must be special, set aside for some higher purpose.
Coming into contact with the charismatic fundamentalist movement at church, my sense of exceptionalism found a religious basis. There was a praise and worship chorus I used to sing at church that went, “I’m gonna be a history-maker in this land!” I would pray things like, “God, I’ll do anything; just don’t let me be normal.”
At the same time, there were certain passages in the Bible that terrified me. One of these was 1 Thessalonians 4:11 (NIV):
make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you.
At nineteen years old, I wanted to do anything but that!
But now, at thirty-six, my feelings on the matter are beginning to change. A “quiet life” is beginning to sound pretty good. As I wrote last week, my impulse toward heroic exceptionalism eventually thrust me into a psychosomatic health crisis. The Rule (Regula) of St. Benedict and the brothers at St. Gregory’s showed me another way to live. After running away from it for so many years, I began to want a regular life.
But what does a Benedictine life actually look like for a married person with kids and a job?
The answer to that question will probably remain a ‘work-in-progress’ for the rest of my life. In the following posts, I will outline my personal Regula or ‘Rule of Life’ that I will be practicing as an oblate. This draft Rule is subject to amendment and approval by the abbot, whose guidance I rely on.