|Saint Leo Abbey -- Early 1980s|
How can I live as a Benedictine oblate in my daily life away from St. Leo Abbey? Having visited the abbey semi-regularly for ten months, I believe I found and began moving in the right direction towards God. The path is far from straight and narrow for me. At this time, the way more resembles a point on a compass rose rather than a footpath through a familiar forest grove but with certainty, I now have direction. Yet in an infantile state, the brief experiences of peace and certainty of purpose I find at the abbey have unforeseen and unintended consequences in the familiar life away from St. Leo.
The Benedictine way of life is not for everyone. In fact, forming life habits and practices according to the Benedictine tradition appeals to a fringe population. When coupled with our desire to know and experience God, I feel confident making the following statement; actively seeking a relationship with The Creator through a simple life of working for our daily bread and regular, frequent, mindful study, meditation and prayer places any seeker in an unfriendly, unsympathetic environment when not among like spirits in a monastic community. We already know this. The Rule of St. Benedict addresses the perils of life outside of the monastery and St. Benedict addresses this accordingly in his rule.
Throughout my novice year, I experience brief images and sensations of nearly indescribable joy, clarity, love and peace when I’m at St. Leo Abbey. I suspect these moments are similar to childlike emotions or experiences expressing themselves. The sensations are fresh and new and my reaction to these experiences is exaggerated or larger than life much like a child outwardly reacts when filled with joy in the presence of loved family and friends. I pray we all have such pleasant memories and experiences to help understand my feelings. Conversely, time away from the abbey can appear lifeless, loveless and lacking the presence of The Holy Spirit with equally strong childlike intensity. It is this darkness I am writing about today and acknowledging this wrong state of being in an ongoing journey towards all that is good.
I have found myself, at times, sinking into states of irritability, agitation and even depression in my novice year. These are not feelings unique to Benedictine oblate novices I’m certain. In fact, these are personality traits I’ve managed back to my childhood years. Now though, this is something different. What I am describing is some form of personal spiritual “letdown” following times of focused attention towards God. I find myself judgmental and argumentative with the ones I love most in my life. I also find myself observing my world and passing some form of “failing” judgment on nearly everything I see based on an internal vision of an ideal perfect state or condition. Thankfully I am mindful of this tendency and with God’s love and the strength of The Holy Spirit I know this is wrong minded and I do what comes naturally. I ask “why?”. Why, after feeling intense love and wishing to express myself creatively while helping others, do I become irrational and bitter?
With God’s infinite patience and love, I believe I found, or was shown the answer in a recurrent, and what I believed to be, unrelated prayer. For some time I’ve asked God to help me see beauty in others. I very much wish to overcome a terrible habit of seeing failings or imperfections in others. In my chosen career, part of my daily job description requires me to identify defects in large aircraft and the processes and procedures used to maintain these aircraft. This frequently involves a human component. It can become difficult seeing God in others when much time is spent analyzing human systems, behaviors and actions.
What I have come to understand with a still limited view and capacity to implement, is this; as a Benedictine oblate my relationship and experience with God MUST be lived wherever my present circumstances take me. This may be in the loving environment of a Benedictine abbey such as St. Leo where it is easy to see God in others, at home, work, the large low cost retail store, the gas station, at a traffic signal in rush hour traffic or any other place I find myself in my journeys. By asking God repeatedly to see the beauty in all of his children, the idea of a relationship with God both at St. Leo and in my daily life became more apparent. The wall between the monastic community and “The World” disappears. I cannot allow myself to build a mental barrier, which can become every bit as difficult to negotiate as a cold, impersonal brick and mortar wall, separating my personal spiritual life from the worldly life provided to me by the same loving God. The world and all of its inhabitants are God’s creation and his gift to us regardless of the “imperfections” we perceive when measured against our internal ideals.
I chose, if that is the right word, the Benedictine way to intensify my life and blessings as well as wishing to know my God. By answering my repeated request to see His beauty in others, God has gently reminded me he is everywhere and in everyone.
James J. Janicki