Sunday, April 28, 2013

Stability and the Rhythm of the Psalms

           The Church is a communion of sinners, before it becomes a communion of saints.  That should not distress us unduly.  One of the benefits of that reality is that both you and I are accepted in the fellowship of the Church.  Let me remind you that our fellowship is not just with each other but “with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.”[i] 

            Springing out of the nature of our communion of sinners as fallen humanity, are strong needs that cry out for the stability offered by making an Oblation of our lives within the context of a specific monastery.  There are no Oblates-at-Large; Oblates are under authority.  One of our fundamental needs is the need for accountability.   The need for accountability is satisfied by a way of life marked by the balance inherent in the Rule, “. . . let him so temper all things that the strong may have something to strive after and the weak nothing to run from”[ii]  

            With that comes the Benedictine reference point for a fresh perspective of life and for the re-setting of our priorities.  Our Oblation, is in part, a decision for stability; stability being one of the fundamental values of the Rule of St. Benedict.  That decision for stability carries us out of the subjective area, where we may be driven by feelings, and places us within a context where there are the solid reference points provided by the Rule.  The decision for stability brings to us a greater sense of personal balance, and a moderation of those emotions that so often afflict us.

            Balance also calls for a holy unrest, a yearning that prevents stability from becoming placidity.

            In the chanting of the Psalms, the text, punctuation, and melody call us into a greater focus both on the presence of the Father and the Son, and on the meaning of these words which God the Spirit seeks to anchor in our hearts.  At first Oblates struggle to find the rhythm of the community.  Eventually the rhythm dominates and becomes reminiscent of the breathing techniques that acted as an aid for the internalization of the Jesus prayer in the Eastern Church.  Above all it is the Psalms, with their steady rhythm, that provide the liturgical framework for the stability that flows from the Offices throughout the day.

            God calls us into Salvation.  God calls us into Stability.  God calls us into the Prayers of the Community.  God calls us into the Secret Place of Prayer known only to us and to Him alone.  All originates in the heart of God who Himself calls us into prayer.  Prayer itself is ultimately just a pretext for being with Him.  Being with Him is beyond words. 

The disciplines of acquired grace, such as the singing of the Psalms, hold the soul aloft for the gift of infused grace.  Acquired grace, remains grace, because it is given in response to the humble praying of the Offices which we have accepted as part of our call as Oblates.  It is truly acquired because if the discipline falters the grace that flows from it also ceases, but we do not acquire it by earning it.  We acquire it by stepping into the flow of the river of that grace as we pray the Offices, as the Psalmist says, “You shall cause them to drink from the torrent of your pleasure.”[iii] That acquired grace holds our soul aloft to God for those moments of infused grace, those touches of Divine Intimacy for which our hearts yearn.

            There is a delightful story about steadfast in prayer in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers.  Abba John the Dwarf mingled together his discipline of prayer with the weaving of his baskets.  “A camel-driver came one day to pick up some goods and take them elsewhere.  Going inside to bring him what he had woven, Abba John forgot about it because his spirit was fixed in God.  So once more the camel-driver disturbed him by knocking on the door and once more Abba John went in and forgot.  The camel-driver knocked a third time and Abba John went in saying, ‘Weaving--camel; weaving--camel.’  He said this so that he would not forget again.”[iv]   By following his discipline of acquired grace Abba John held his soul aloft to God for gift of infused grace and at times so dwelt in the presence of God that nothing could deflect him.

[i] I John 1:3
[ii] Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 65
[iii] Psalm 36:8b – Richard of St. Victor
[iv] The Sayings of the Desert Fathers