Rachel M. Srubas is a Presbyterian minister who is also a Benedictine Oblate with the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Tucson, Arizona. Benedictine Oblate’s are clergy or lay people who are associated with a Benedictine monastery, but they are not all necessarily Roman Catholic. Kathleen Norris, who wrote the book Cloister Walk, is a Presbyterian and an Oblate of Assumption Abbey in North Dakota. Oblates promise to follow the example of monastic life as presented in the Rule of St. Benedict to the best of their abilities and still live in the world. They visit the monastery they have connected themselves to for meetings and retreats. Oblates benefit from the prayer life of the monks or nuns, and the monks and nuns also benefit from their prayers. (Go to
www.osb.org for more information about Benedictines and Oblates.)
Srubas presents a quote from the Rule of St. Benedict and follows with a meditation or prayer about the quote. The Rule (with 73 chapters plus a prologue), or RB, translation she uses is that of Abbot Patrick Barry, O.S.B. of Ampelforth Abbey in England, published in 1997. The Rule of St. Benedict itself was written by St. Benedict, a sixth-century monk in central Italy, influenced by earlier monastic rules such as the Rule of St. Augustine, Rule of St. Basil the Great, the Rule of the Master, and the works of John Cassian.
The Rule of the Master was a major source for St. Benedict, though he moderated some of its rigidity; moderation is key to the Rule of St. Benedict. He did not want his monks fasting or praying too much, but he did not want them to do the opposite, either. Instead, he called for a healthy balance in life, and it is this that appeals to many lay people.
Balance is the other key to the Rule. The Emperor Charlemagne decided that the monasteries of his broad empire would all follow the Rule of St. Benedict because of its call for balance and moderation. That and other aspects of the Rule is why there are still Benedictine monasteries throughout the world.
Srubas uses writing as a form of prayer, following an ancient Christian prayer form called Lectio Divina, or Holy Reading. This method, which Benedictines have practiced for centuries, uses mainly the Scriptures, the writings of the Church Fathers and the saints, or other spiritual writings. The primary source for lectio, though, is usually the Bible. The method begins with the person reading a chapter or a paragraph, then going back over the reading very slowly. If a word or phrase jumps out, one can stop and repeat the word or phrase over and over out loud or silently, similar to a mantra. The person can pray on this, and maybe - just maybe - contemplation will happen for a second or more. Then one can begin the process over with another word or phrase.
Srubas’ prayers are her meditative reflections on the individual chapters of the RB using the lectio method; most fit with the Rule. She also writes from her present situation in life when she composed the prayers, a normal thing to do. Most of the prayers and quotes cover the space of one page, though some cover two pages.
The seventh chapter of the Rule is on humility, involving twelve steps, most of which Srubas covers. These prayers are in poetic form, which is to be expected. She also includes explanations of chapters in the Rule that some may find difficult. Benedictines, monastics or Oblates might enjoy reading the quote and then Srubas’ prayerful meditation on the quote, but non-Benedictines will enjoy this book, too.