Thursday, June 17, 2010

(63) School for the Lord's Service

"The term 'school' as it is used in 'school for the Lord's service'
is misleading if it carries any suggestion of a formal education.
Originally the word was used for a room or a hall in which people
assembled for a common purpose, and in the Rule it's usage
means a group who have come together for the common purpose
of seeking God...But the learning process is more analogous to
that of apprenticeship by which one person learns a skill from
the Liturgical Press, 1984, p. 130.]

Comment: Esther de Waal is a well-known spiritual writer, who
has written several treatises on Benedictine Spirituality. Her
above paragraph hits upon a subject that has long interested
me, especially when it comes to my own experience.

I can appreciate the idea that "apprenticeship" is applicable,
when it involves becoming a Benedictine monk. At first there's
the Novice Master, than there's more formal schooling by a
Master of Studies that focuses more on monastic and religious
studies, and later some monks might attend a special house
of studies or a university.

And there's also the basics of the Rule, especially including
Lectio, Meditation, Contemplation (all related in a special way).
But most especially there's the education that comes living in
the close quarters of a monastery. That might be the hardest
part of an apprenticeship, getting up in the face of the other--
and keeping civilized, humane, humble, and sane.

Most of us outside the walls don't really have this kind of
focused learning experience, which is basically learning how
to be a monk whose priority is Seeking God and growing in
God. But there are some who surely try, such as the oblates
attached to a monastery but who usually live outside.

I have found the Oblate Formation program somewhat limited,
when it comes to any formal training within the monastery. It
usually consists of a few hours once a month, on a given Sunday.
There can be occasional seminars and retreats. And there are
handouts and book lists. More importantly, for some, is acquiring
a Benedictine spiritual director with whom one can meet more
directly at appointed meetings.

Overall this "School" for those other monastics (oblates or
non-traditional) is somewhat tenuous--in that what one learns
are the *fundamentals* of Benedictine life. For some, perhaps
the fundamentals would seem enough; but, for others who wish
to move farther along in this special School, it's pretty much left
to their own volition as to how far they might wish to progress.

There usually is the experience of some sort of community,
whether in a local church, or at the workplace, or other forms
of communal organizations. But if one learns in the School of
the Lord's Service, I should think a person would have to focus
on St. Benedict's specifics in his Rule--and somehow integrate
them into their behavior. That behavior surely carries out into
the world, into all those other countless communities beyond
the monastic confines. In other words this integration of the
monastic behavioral forms into one's own life is about
conversion, about becoming more a Benedictine soul that
can carry forth out in the greater world.

As for the academic learning, like in the monastery there are
different steps. Some remain at one stage, others move on to
other stages. This, too, can be achieved outside the walls.

There's always the huge repository of monastic books available,
wherein one can get a better grip on the Benedictine Way.
Beyond this, there's the "Seeking of God." How, where do we
find Such? There's Theology, Philosophy, and Religious Studies
available at all academic levels of learning.

Most importantly, however, is the working "within." It's about
trying to find God through prayer, meditation, and contemplation.
And, just maybe, it's also about finding your True Self. This
term is oft used in monastic and religious circles. Sometimes
it is related to another term, "True North." From what I can glean,
it's about discovering your spiritual self or the Great Self of
depth psychology. It can involve one's "personal myth"--our
archetypal infrastructure--and following the flow of such. But
especially for those monastically oriented, it's the discovery of
the Spirit Within.

Finally, at least for me, this special School is about where we
might be heading in this monastic process. Over the centuries
the goal has been defined, but in our own time we are once again
looking into new definitions that edge into our modern knowledge-
base when it comes to both outer and inner Reality.