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The Oratory of the Monastery

Saturday, August 3, 2024
Chapter 52

The oratory ought to be what it is called, and nothing else is to be done or stored there. After the Opus Dei, all should leave in complete silence and with reverence for God, so that anyone who may wish to pray alone will not be disturbed by the insensitivity of another. Moreover, if at other times some choose to pray privately, they may simply go in and pray , not in a loud voice, but with tears and heartfelt devotion. Accordingly, those who do not pray in this manner are not to remain in the oratory after the Opus Dei, as we have said; then they will not interfere with anyone else.

Richard Sullivan, a professor of creative writing at Notre Dame University in the 60's and a writer himself, taught his classes that the two most important physical dimensions of the writing profession were time and space. "Write every single day at the same time and in the very same place," he said. "Whether you have anything to say or not, go there and sit and do nothing, if necessary, until the very act of sitting there at your writer's time in your writer's place releases the writing energy in you and begins to affect you automatically." Teachers of yoga, too, prescribe a set of basic postures and places to dispose the soul to the transcendent. Teachers of meditation prescribe times and places and mantras, a type of personal chant, to center the soul. In every tradition, in other words, we are taught that it is not a matter of separating the sacred and the secular. It is a matter of staying conscious of the fact that the sacred is in the secular. There is, in other words, such a thing as a spiritual well where simply being in that place can tap open that special part of our souls and enable us to touch the sacred in the secular. "Let the oratory be what it is called," Benedict said. Have a place where you can go in order to be about nothing but the business of being in the presence of God so that every other space in your life can become more conscious of that presence as well. More than that, Benedict asks us to be there in a special way--with quiet and with awareness, not laughing or talking or lounging or distracting but alert and immersed and enshrouded in the arms of God. Americans, of course, have made of God a casual circumstance. We have prayer meetings with coffee cups in our hands and listen to psalmody with our legs crossed and our arms spread-eagled on the backs of our pews. We avoid churches and say that since God is everywhere, anyplace is good enough. All of which is true, at one level. But, Benedictine spirituality says also that to know God in time and space we must regularly seek to find God in one time and space that enables us to recognize God more easily in every other one.