Spiritual Grounding and the Vowed Life

Folks often ask me, “What does the ObJN after your name stand for?” I reply, sometimes sheepishly I admit, because I don’t want to be misunderstood. “ObJN stands for Oblate in the Order of Julian of Norwich.” Sometimes the conversation shifts at that moment. But, at other moments there is an invitation to continue. “What is an Oblate?” So, I might go on: “An Oblate is a person in the world vowed through a monastery to a certain life of prayer and discipline.” An Oblate in the Order of Julian, as an example, promises to uphold the teachings and theology of Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century English Christian mystic. An Oblate is committed to living a life of witness in the church and in the world in the name of Christ. An ObJN is committed to the modified Benedictine Rule of Life: poverty, chastity, obedience and prayer. Three hours of weekly still prayer and daily worship experiences of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the Book of Common Prayer are also part of the practice. If Morning and Evening Prayer are the foundation of each day, the Rule of Life is the framework of each day.

How did this all begin for me? Many years ago I began to explore the use of Morning Prayer, fitting it into my morning occasionally when I felt the desire to do so, or when I simply remembered to do so. The way that the practice came together was particularly evolutionary for me in the beginning and it continues to evolve. I suspect that will always be the case by design.  I noticed that my day was img_1509transformed into something else on the days that I began with the Prayers. Those around me seemed different when I began with the Prayers. And I, too, was being transformed through this practice. What began gradually with Prayers every once in a while, sometimes in community with others but often practiced alone, became more frequent experiences because the practice itself (with the action of the Holy Spirit), of spending set aside time together with God through the Book of Common Prayer compelled me. Something was happening.

Over the course of this process, the practices of Daily Prayer grew to become a way of telling time each day. Bookends, perhaps. No, more like a foundation. And, in a sense, it is that foundation that holds my Rule of Life, which is a Community Rule that I share with Oblates in the  Order of Julian of Norwich. These are modified monastic vows. The rule includes vows to practice Daily Prayer, to commit to three hours a week to still prayer, regular spiritual reading, to witness to the theology of Julian (that happens to be Trinitarian), commitment to monthly spiritual direction and regular reporting to the Prior of the Oblates, an annual silent retreat and available spiritual direction with the Order’s Guardian. The formal Rule is modified Benedictine: poverty, chastity, obedience and prayer. These indicate a commitment to both active and contemplative ministry, a framework for all of life.

As I said earlier, something was changing. That something was me. It was my relationship with God. It was my relationships with others and the world. It was finding courage to earnestly discern vocational leanings/callings in my life. There is nothing special or unique about this, available only to a select few. God calls each of us into being and doing. As my life transformed, I found that when I once would have turned to God with a “How do you expect me to do that?” now my “hows” have given way to “yesses.”

Are there risks? Sure. This writing may look like spiritual overachieving to some. I’ve gotten this criticism from more than a few. Yet, others dismiss this quest as “esoteric” and a sheer waste of time. I’m here to tell you that there is nothing esoteric about the path to seeking and becoming or about seeking the experience of one’s deep authenticity.  There is nothing esoteric about being responsible to others and admitting human imperfection and vulnerability. And, that is the risk one takes whenever they share their life. It is this vulnerability that reminds us that we are all vulnerable to one another and ultimately to God. Our life’s journey is an invitation to face the reality of our vulnerabilities. It is in the facing of them and in our honest sharing with others and with God where deep work in our lives is possible. This is really about a grounded relationship with God and an experience of God in all things as much as these things are possible in one’s lifetime, a unification with the source of all creation. Not doing anything, or dismissing another, becomes the greater risk.

What are you being asked to do that you have not yet gotten around to doing with your life?

© 2016, Douglas A. Beck