Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Oblation Update

c. 1437-1446
c. 1437-1446 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
My updates here are sometimes tardy. This one is really late.

In the fall of 2010 in the midst of re-exploring Christianity from a contemplative perspective, I thought about how my growing interest (which culminated in actually attending services at a small parish of the Episcopal Church on Trinity Sunday in 2010) was connected to the lives and writings of monastics, or "religious" as their are also known. I checked online and yes, the Anglican Communion in general and the Episcopal Church in particular had such monastic communities.

I contacted a few in late summer and early fall of 2010 and then selected one to begin a dialogue with about being an oblate, which basically means being attached to a community without taking full vows. I spent some time trying out parts or whole recitations of the Daily Office while I put together my application and continued communicating with the community. By March 2011, as I wrote last year, I was submitting my application. Then there really wasn't much written about the whole thing after that. So what happened?

Well, I got through about 10 months (starting at the end of June/beginning of July 2011 and continuing to nearly the end of March 2012). Before I even started, I was not in love with many parts of the Bible, especially the Psalter (i.e. the Psalms), and Benedictine communities read and pray a lot of the Bible, especially the Psalter. And to be honest, my hang-ups with Christianity and spiritual deafness caused me to feel like quitting the community almost as soon as I had officially started my novitiate. I sent an email withdrawing from my one year period as a novice oblate by the end of July. But over the next month I resolved a particular roadblock, not really sure what it was now exactly, and kind of wished I had stuck with it. Or maybe I just hate making choices that possess such finality. I sent an inquiry was granted a chance to continue as a novice.

This pattern of really getting frustrated with Christianity, and wondering why I continued participating in it when in general I really didn't believe a lot of it or feel any deep connection it, but then getting some insight into a theological puzzle or something similar, continued. I wouldn't really come any closer to faith or believing after such pendulous swings, but I would find something to inspire or intrigue me just enough not to give up, and I figured I might as well keep trying. I mean, maybe it would work out, and maybe it wouldn't, but why quit again unless I was really sure. They wouldn't take me back again a second time, I was pretty sure of that.

By December of 2011, I had become more familiar with the Psalms and learned more about them, but it didn't seem to help. Around this time they became the focus of my Oblate study. That didn't really help much either--I eventually found that I could appreciate them for other people but not for me. Also by that time, my plunging headlong into regular study and reflection crystallized some of what I really don't like or am not comfortable with about Christianity. It seemed as if the more I actually got into the readings and church teachings, the less I liked them. (At least as often as not, and sometimes more.) And a friendly letter I had received a little before that from a fellow novice oblate made it even clearer how differently I viewed things from those who seemed to have faith and found solace in the passages I couldn't stand. How could I ever really belong, and did I actually want to?

After a few months of back and forth with my Formation Master via several email and a phone call, it didn't seem like I was getting anywhere. I just kept wondering why so much of what I was supposed to be reading and praying seemed pointless or offensive when other people found it comforting or inspiring. And in my monthly reports, I had to keep giving a non-reply or not applicable answer to the sections on how my practice helped me sense or know God (nothing has ever done that) or how the Spirit was guiding or speaking to me (again, a blank).

Since I had been told to be as honest as possible in my reports, I was, and with sufficient detail to document my perpetual frustration. This eventually lead to a call from someone higher up in the chain of responsibility for the training of new members, and after a talk with the Dean of Formation it was decided I should resign and suspend my Novitiate with only a short quarterly paper and a couple of brief monthly reports to go. I couldn't see any real reason to disagree. I wasn't trying to get kicked out, or asked politely but firmly to leave, but the community just didn't feel that there was anything more they could offer me in my circumstances at that time. I don't blame them, as many had full time jobs and we weren't part of an actual sequestered community with the support that can provide. That final conversation and the subsequent resignation email transpired on March 20th 2012, the date of the spring equinox.

So there you go. It was a genuine effort to connect with Christianity in some way through connecting to a Christian community, even if it didn't pan out. I may criticize religion in general and Christianity in particular from time to time, but I am not deeply hostile to or casually dismissive of either. And I do appreciate the support that community attempted to give. I do think that they genuinely wanted to help. But as I discussed with their representatives, I just don't have that beginning insight or connection into the spiritual dimension, so it's all kind of abstract and academic to me. They said I am welcome to reapply or resume if and when I come to a spark of faith. I don't see that happening (any time soon), but it was a nice gesture. I wish them well, and you too, dear reader.

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