Gwen Odney, OblSB
I was given the gift of time when I retired 9 years ago in 2013. One of my first gifts to myself after this momentous occasion, after some 40 years as a classroom teacher, was to spend a couple of nights at the Benedictine Center at St. Paul’s Monastery. I had quite regularly been doing personal retreats there—mostly to do some heavy duty teacher work. This time I took an empty journal, determined, still in working mode, to find ways to be accountable for this new expanse of time. What evolved was a framework for strands of my life. I called them the 6 “F’s”: faith, family/friends, “for others", fitness, fun and foundations, (household tasks). I plotted these six strategies on pages by the week so I could write in each section what I had done to fulfill them. The idea was to keep these areas of life in balance.
Somehow in one of my retreats, I had vaguely heard of “Oblates” and the Rule of St. Benedict, not really having thought much about either. I guess I had been more self-indulgent with my time on retreats, although I loved attending Daily Prayer, and enjoyed eating and talking with the welcoming Sisters. During a self-retreat two years after retirement, I mentioned some interest in the oblate program to Sister Jackie, but let it drop. She reminded me of this a few weeks before my intentions would need to be finalized with Sister Mary Lou, and I felt the Spirit saying, “do it!” I became part of the formation group of 2016.
During our formation gatherings, our study of the Rule, and sharing of faith stories, I discovered that my 6 “F’s” aligned pretty well with St. Benedict’s themes: prayer, community, work, hospitality, order, refreshment, moderation, and balance. I was already being formed into a Benedictine! In the last six years since my final oblation, I have been privileged of attending Oblate events, the yearly retreat, greeting visitors at the desk, enjoying the company of the Sisters, continuing my personal retreats, and daily reading the Rule along with commentary. Since Covid, we have shared Zoom gatherings and the newly created Benedictine study groups. I have easily fallen into the Liturgy of the Hours: Morning Prayer, Midday Prayer and Compline. I don’t always observe them at an exact moment of the day, but they are part of my life every single day (except Sunday — I let Eucharist take precedence over all!)
What I love about being a Benedictine Oblate is that Benedictine theology is not a church or a religion. It is a timeless way of life. Oblates come with many different backgrounds. In my own Episcopal faith tradition, I can share stories with Benedictines from my church as well as those from others. The lessons of life streaming from this compact statement of faith and life witness are a significant and satisfying guide to my own life, 1500 years after it was written. Being an oblate is not an addition to my church life, it is a source unto itself—guiding, provoking, and leading me deeper into the life of Christ and Christ’s community.