My Oblate Story, Part 3

So I arrived in Seattle. When I left LA it was 85. When I arrived in Seattle, it was 65. I think that’s a good enough metaphor for my first few years here. Take a psychotic landlord (who liked to scream and verbally abuse tenants), the normal self-doubt and hypercriticality that comes with graduate study, financial instability, and a good dose of homesickness, and you’ve got yourself a mess. Or the proverbial dark night.

While I learned what community was at CalArts, I think I was supposed to learn what it is to be alone here. While there are people I care about out here, I don’t have the communion I did at CalArts, either. It’s nobody’s fault or failing, it’s just life.

So another thing happened when I moved out here. I started going to a Dominican parish. Now I hadn’t had much exposure to the mendicant orders, aside from a Franciscan priest I once knew. (Hell of a guy.) I’m extremely attracted to the Benedictine notion of stability, but it’s not something I’ve had a lot of. (New academics generally don’t get that luxury until tenure.) I guess the biggest thing I learned from the Dominicans is how to “Keep in touch / and be at home / everywhere.” (As Timothy Leary wrote.) I also absorbed the notion of study as being a kind of prayer from them.

The other thing that dawned on me is that maybe I’m being called, as it were, to more solitude. I can easily survive when I have community. But there comes a time when the community is a crutch, and its absence is another kind of formation. I think this dawned on me when I started my dissertation, and I started getting very little feedback about what I was doing. (My chair is pretty “hands off,” which I appreciate.) There are days when I pine for the community I had at CalArts, but I know it’s also a metaphysical dead-end.

So I discovered the Camaldolese Benedictines. There’s a community of them in California, and I’m trying to get down there. (I’ve been told by a friend who lives in the Bay area that they’re on a BART stop.) And they do have oblates. I haven’t contacted them yet–there’s no hurry, I have the rest of my life to figure it out–but that’s where I am at the moment. Their blend of cenobitic and communal life seems to be what I’ve been looking for.


~ by Jen on February 4, 2008.

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