I usually try to link my offering for the home page to the Rule of St Benedict, after all that is what oblates are meant to use to guide them through life. The June readings from the Rule work their way from the 3rd to the 12th degrees of humility, consider the content and order of the Divine Office and have one-day comments on prayer, the work of the dean, sleeping arrangements and excommunication. With such a rich variety of topics, how was I to choose what to write about? When scrolling through previous articles, I came across an exercise that links humility, the Divine Office, prayer and sleeping – clearly my prayer for inspiration had been heard!
Several years ago, I mentioned to my parish priest that I was about to spend a week-end at Pluscarden Abbey. He instructed me to set myself a task when there, suggesting composing a hymn. As I am sufficiently humble to realise that this was totally beyond my abilities, I turned to the psalms of the Divine Office for inspiration. After some time in prayer, I had the idea that while I could not compose a hymn, perhaps I could compose a psalm. Would this be irreverent/ presumptuous/impossible? Having slept on the thought, I decided that, by using existing psalm lines, I would be avoiding the irreverent/presumptuous accusations and there was only one way to check whether or not it was impossible – try.
Over the week-end, I studied the Book of Psalms in more detail than ever before and came up with the following (plagiarised from “The Psalms: Grail Translations” CTS 2003):
Psalm no 151
Comfort in Prayer
70:18 Now that I am old and grey-haired, do not forsake me, O God
70:20 You have burdened me with bitter troubles but you will give me back my life
69:6 As for me, wretched and poor, come to me O God. You are my rescuer, my help
9:17 Lord, you hear the prayer of the poor; you strengthen their hearts
54:17 As for me, I will cry to God and the Lord will save me
65:20 Blessed be God who did not reject my prayer nor withhold his love from me
58:17 As for me, I will sing of your strength for you have been a refuge in the day of my distress
9:11 Those who know your name will trust you: you will never forsake those who seek you
54:17 As for me, I will love the Lord for he has heard the cry of my appeal
85:5 O Lord, you are good and forgiving, full of love to all who call
30:8 As for me, I trust in the Lord. You who have seen my afflictions and taken heed of my prayers
120:2 My help shall come from the Lord who made heaven and earth
4.4 The Lord hears me whenever I call him.
So all that remains for the various topics in the Rule for June to be included in my efforts is for a dean at Pluscarden to read this and recommend to the Abbot that I be excommunicated. Fortunately for me, Benedict’s use of the word ‘excommunicate’ does not carry quite the same meaning as it does today and would only apply to someone living in community. A monk under excommunication is excluded from the communal activities of meal-times and reciting the Divine Office. The other monks must not speak to him without the Abbot’s permission but the Abbot must make every effort to help him to see the error of his ways.
I do hope that no one reading this feels that I have been irreverent/presumptuous. The exercise of composing this was undertaken in a spirit of obedience to my parish priest (see chapter 68 of the Rule) and was a very prayerful experience. Perhaps someone out there can turn it into a hymn, thus meeting the parish priest’s original suggestion!
Oblate of Pluscarden Abbey