"A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.…" just kidding! (and my apologies to any Star Wars fans out there!). It was not in a galaxy far, far away, it was right here in the Twin Cities; and it wasn’t a long time ago, but it was a while ago. I’m talking about becoming Oblate. Next June will be the 10th anniversary of my final Oblation, and it has been one of the greatest gifts of my life, and one of the things for which I am most grateful.
Like so many other things in my life, I followed a crooked path and stumbled into the Benedictine Center. When I first came to St. Paul’s Monastery, I had been a Lutheran pastor serving in several different congregations for almost 12 years. For anyone who has done congregational or parish ministry, a strange thing happens--our spiritual life strangely intertwines with our “work.”
Like everyone else, I would be busy throughout the week with whatever my work entailed, but when Sunday morning came around and the worship, the sermon and the teaching were enriching other’s spirituality, I was actually working and giving. I’m not complaining, I loved the work, but gradually I found I was giving away more of my own spirituality to help others, and I was not replenishing my own spirit. I was approaching a spiritual desert, and I didn’t like it; I knew I had to do something to keep my spirit alive and well if I were to be whole. So, I began my search…
I went on a retreat to St. Mary Monastery in Rock Island. I had no idea if it was Benedictine or anything else. I went there because my friend lived near there and we were going to spend some time together after my retreat. I was fascinated by the museum of Benedictine history, and I will never forget the Sister who sat with me every day at worship and guided me through prayer. She was so kind, and she was a delight! I left thinking--hmmm, I like these Benedictines.
Then I went on a retreat to St. Scholastica in Duluth, MN, not because it was
Benedictine, but because I wanted to be near one of my most spiritual places--Lake Superior. The Sister who was my guide that week encouraged me to read the rule, and she made sure I had one in my room! I had no idea what I was getting into, but Lutherans are known for their study of scripture. I was thrilled as I read through the rule because of all the scripture references in it. The same sister told me that there was a Benedictine monastery much closer to where I lived – it was in Maplewood. Hmm, there it was again, the whole Benedictine “thing.”
Sometime later I decided to check out this monastery in Maplewood. As I drove into the parking space by the new building (for what, I don’t even remember – perhaps for Taizé worship or a retreat), I looked over and saw the old monastery building and realized I had been there years before at an event where Thomas Keating presented. Hmmm, again… interesting.
I went into the new monastery and felt like I had come home to a place I didn’t know was home. But the thing that was amazing was my welcome into the building and into the service. I remember being greeted as if they all knew me. I decided it was time to really look seriously into this “Benedictine Thing.”
And, as they say, the rest is history. I attended some events at the Monastery and became interested in this “oblate thing.” I applied, was interviewed, and got into the formation class beginning in the fall of 2013. Little did I know that this oblate formulation process was about to save my spiritual life. As things degenerated in the congregation I served and as I grew closer and closer to burnout in my work, I could ALWAYS return to the monastery and find peace, welcome, joy and people who listened to me with the ears of their hearts. The Monastery became the place where I could search, and God would always find me. So, obviously, there was no doubt at the oblate discernment retreat that I was going to do my final oblation. Now here it is, almost ten years later, and the Benedictine way of living is now deeply embedded in my DNA, and I am so incredibly grateful.
One of the things I love about Benedictine spirituality and The Rule is that, to me, it appears to be of a spirituality on a different plane. It seems to me that whatever you bring to Benedictine spirituality, the rule of Benedict augments one’s spirituality; it doesn’t change, dilute, or overrule it. How extraordinarily rich this is! For this, also, I am extremely grateful.
So, as we approach our holiday of Thanksgiving, Saints Benedict and Scholastica, St. Paul’s Monastery and the Sisters who live and work there, and now all the Oblates are some of the things I am most grateful for.
Thank you, God, and thank you to all of you.
Ann Siverling, OblSB is an ordained Lutheran pastor (ELCA) and is an Oblate of St. Paul’s Monastery (since 2014). She currently serves on the Oblate Leadership Team guiding the thriving ministry to and for Oblates at St. Paul’s Monastery.