Mentoring and Monitoring Benedictine
Voices From The Monastery
Before I share with you some of the results of my study, I would like to tell you about my spiritual path. (You are probably looking at my grey hair and saying to yourself that this could take a while, but I will provide an abridged version!) I come to this scholarly work and this place as a stranger to things Benedictine. My roots are Lutheran, and hearing stories about saints was not part of my heritage. For Lutherans, saints were the Mr. and Mrs. sitting in the same pew year after year; the communion of saints. While perhaps theologically persuasive, this belief does not exactly capture the imagination. It is not very gripping. What must it have been like, I would ask myself, to have grown up in Roman Catholicism with stories of saints: St. Francis, St. Clare, St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, St. Agnes and countless others swimming in one's head?
I confess that the word Benedictine did become part of my vocabulary during my college days but only as Benedictine liqueur. I tell you this not merely to elaborate on my spiritual path but to try to explain my own amazement that I am here now in this time and place.
I first met St. Benedict for the first time on the ceiling frescos at Melk Abbey in Austria. I was touring with the Texas Bach Choir and as we toured the abbey, I remember being transfixed by a figure in black surrounded by gilt Baroque splendor. Now here was a "man in black"! I remember standing a while in that presence drawn to something I did not understand at the time. I wanted to linger there.
I was introduced to Benedictine Oblates, as have been many others, via The Cloister Walk. My first exposure to real live Benedictines was as a privileged witness to an incense-filled oblation in a tiny Anglican Catholic Church. This attraction to Benedictine spirituality has grown through reading the Rule of St. Benedict and experiencing its resonant power, even in translation, and as interpreted by Joan Chittister, Esther DeWaal, Norvene West and others.
However, I found myself working in a research university environment that felt more like a corporation where humanistic concerns were not valued, where students were viewed as customers or assembly-line products, where the profit motive seemed to be more important than the mission. This situation was coupled with my educational course work in the graduate program which I found frustrating as educational leadership theory was dominated by military and business metaphors and seemed devoid of spiritual values.