But as we progress in this way of life and in faith, we shall run on the path of God’s commandments, our hearts overflowing with the inexpressible delight of love. (St. Benedict’s Prologue)
The reason I became a Benedictine Oblate was to be happy. I know that this is supposed to be an inferior motivation for the spiritual life, for any life. And yes, it has got me into trouble and the preachers and judges in my life have had their “I told you so’s”. But it hasn’t helped, I haven’t been convinced. I still do most of what I do out of a longing for happiness, a deep happiness… call it joy.
So, nine or ten years ago, when I stumbled upon Kathleen Norris’ Cloister Walk, after a long arid period in my life, it came as a powerful grace. I remember the buoyancy I began to feel as I slowly made my way through the pages. I remember the growing strange attraction I felt toward an ancient Saint. And I remember the conspiracy of accidents that eventually lead me to St. Peter’s and final oblation.
What I’ve discovered through all this is that being an Oblate is a kind of progressive personal reformation. But it’s not personal as in private, and it’s not progressive as in, “at this time next year my spirituality quotient will be 7.5.” In fact I’ve often had to retrace my steps in order to find a better path. That’s called detachment. It’s progress but it’s not clear sailing. It is more like tacking in stormy weather where St. Benedict and his cloud of witnesses, flesh and spirit, get to have a say in how I’m doing.
But regarding this progression, it makes a difference to me that Benedict uses the word “as”, and not “after”, as in, “after we make enough progress in this way of life and in faith”. No, he says as we go, as we take a step, as we progress our hearts and lives will intersect that broad and beautiful stream of joy, or as the Saint has it, that inexpressible delight of love.
So I have thrown my lot in with Benedict because he promises delight. I don’t discount the narrow road as he calls it. I can’t, I’m on it, occasionally learning some good driving techniques that for the most part keep my life out of the ditch.
But the sweet thing is that our trip is already a kind of destination because at any moment we can be graced by an unexpected oasis, a rest stop, an information centre, perhaps an ancient fishing village, an orchard, a welcome sign over an unlocked door… whatever, where we experience the sheer delight of love that Benedict speaks of and that Christ holds out for us.