As an Oblate, I spend much more time away from the abbey, my spiritual home, than I spend at it. It is always a blessing to return to that home. As one of my fellow Oblates observed recently, it is never a long trip when we're coming to St. Benedict's. it can be a long trip back to our own homes, but there is no way our homecoming pilgrimage to the abbey can be long. But despite our spiritual closeness to the abbey, we as oblates spend most of our time as sisters and brothers sent out into our journeys through the world.
For those of you who are tiring of ceramic metaphors, I have not found a way to compare this passage from the rule to any aspect of working with clay. But I can compare it with a craft for which I have no talent whatsoever, weaving. Another Oblate of St. Benedict's is a weaver. On the few times I have had the privilege of watching her work, it seems amazing to skeins of yarn being transformed into large sections of cloth. The yarn seems, to my untrained eye, to encompass the very air surrounding it.
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 139, "For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth." -Psalm 91:13-15 NRSV. Ever since I started my journey through seminary those words have spoken to me deeply. Even in the hardest times I knew the God who knows me so intimately was always at my side.
As a Benedictine Oblate, I know I am encompassed within a cloth of prayer. The cloth is composed of the prayers of my abbey's monks and oblates are woven around me, just as the yarn of my prayer feeds into the cloth of prayer surrounding them. Every Oblate is, of course, prayed for by the monks and other oblates on a regular schedule. And when we call or email with specific prayer requests, we know we know prayers are immediately, and constantly lifting our requests before God. That knowledge has helped me walk calmly into the worst possible Session meetings, that's Presbyterian speak for church boards, knowing somehow things would be alright.
But the cloth of prayer does not stop with the days our names are specifically lifted up, or the times we ask for prayers for specific issues or problems. At the end of each of the hours of prayer the closing words chanted by the presenter are "may the divine help be with us." The chanted response is "and with our absent brethren." In other words we, who are on life journeys that take us away from the abbey, are surrounded by a cloth of prayer each time prayers are lifted to God in the abbey's Oratory.
And we, who are on our journeys, lift up our sisters and brothers with the same words at the end of our hours of prayer. When I consider it, it feels like yarns of prayer reach up to God from all over this country, and from the monks and oblates associated with the abbey who live in other lands. And with the assistance of the Eternal Weaver their yarns are woven into the cloth of prayer which continually surrounds us.
Would you like to included in and covered by such a cloth of prayer? Check out your local Benedictine Abbey to see if they have an Oblate program. Or check out the website of St. Benedict's Abbey at http://www.sbabbey.com.
Brother Oscar Romero