Updated: Feb 24
After writing "The Birth of the Oratory", I have been wondering if a community without explicit principles can survive and thrive. I expect the Oratory will grow slowly, very slowly, but will it last? I suspect it will not without some basic principles, explicit guidelines, practical supports, for membership.
At first I thought to call these minimal guidelines the three pillars. And I almost went with that. But then I thought, since there are three of them and they are meant to be grounded and practical, I thought of a traditional milking stool's three legs. A milking stool is stable no matter how uneven the ground. It is simple, practical, sturdy and serves its purpose admirably, without any pomp or circumstance. In fact it belongs in a milking shed or barn.
So here they are. The three legs of the traditional milking stool keep it stable on uneven ground. Likewise, Oratory membership has three legs on which it stands, stable, on the ground of our humanness:
practice, a daily routine of contemplation and study.
service, sharing time and talent in some dimension of the Oratory.
a personal rule of life that supports both practice and service.
Practice: A member may already have their own spiritual practice or they may modify it, expand it, or adopt new ones. There are no requirements regarding the form one's spiritual practice takes. It can be Christian or Buddhist, Muslim, Jewish, Taoist or Hindu. We recommend spending a period of at least once each day solely devoted to it and sticking to a single practice of long periods of one's life so some self-mastery can be achieved.
For those who do not have a history of spiritual practice, we recommend Centering Prayer as taught by Father Thomas Keating (1923-2018) and Contemplative Outreach. It is defined as, "a receptive method of Christian silent prayer which deepens our relationship with God, the Indwelling Presence … a prayer in which we can experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself." It a simple but nuanced practice that can be easily learned but takes a lifetime to master. You can speak with me to learn more or visit the Centering Prayer Method pages on the Contemplative Outreach website and scroll down.
Study times mean study of world spirituality. This is intentionally broad. We do not want to limit the curious mind. We want to be open to soul and God and this means being open to vistas far beyond any one religion. The Oratory Spirituality Groups are designed to provided such openness in shared study and discussion.
Practice tends to be heart-centered and emptying. Balanced by study and service, a member's practice can, as a whole, be balanced and well-rounded.
Service: Our service, similar to our study, may take place anywhere, a local church's soup kitchen, mentoring young people, or donating to worthy causes. However, the Oratory is a shared ministry. It is a team ministry that develops and sustains the various dimensions of the Oratory. You may have ideas for new ministries. You may be a writer of blogs, a facilitator of groups, a spiritual director or companion, a liturgical leader, a meditation teacher, or able to develop the more technical aspects of our online programs. Oratory members apply their time and talents to any of these dimensions of our shared ministry. As we grow, we may start to meet regularly to coordinate our programs.
Rule of Life: If we feel called to a spiritual life, then a Rule is the container in which that life can be sustained. It sets the commitments, the practices, and the boundaries needed to nurture the mustard seed of vocation so that it might grow into a great tree, providing nesting and shelter for abundant life.
All members are asked to write their own personal rule of life. They may do this themselves, in the course of their daily lives or on a retreat, or they may choose to do it with a Spiritual Director or Companion. However the personal rule is written, it is not meant to be restrictive or even suffocating. It is meant to help sustain your practice as an Oratory member and strengthen it over time.
Practice, Service, and Rule, these are the three legs of the barn's milking stool that I hope will sustain us each as individual members and as a ministering community.