Rachel M. Srubas is a Benedictine oblate and Presbyterian clergywoman whose writings have appeared in The Christian Century, America, and The Best American Poetry, among other publications. She is also a spiritual director, retreat leader, preacher, and teacher, and lives in Tucson, Arizona with her husband, Ken S. McAllister.
I first read Oblation: Mediations on St. Benedict's Rule by RachelSrubas wedged into a crowded Greyhound bus on a rainy Easter Sunday afternoon.Though that may not have been the ideal setting for a good spiritual read (norprobably where the author anticipated it would be read), it was actually quitelovely. It is advantageous, when reading this text, to have time to look offand think, and to be surrounded by very human faces about which to ponder. Cometo think of it, that may be exactly what the author intended.
In this small volume Srubas presents the reader with the resuits of her"scriptio divina" poem-meditations on most of the chapters of the Rule ofBenedict. She calls it, in the preface, "a cliary of Benedictine prayers"composed in response to her reading of the Rule. The "oblation" of the titlerefers not to the liturgical act of oblation (though Srubas is an oblate of theBenedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration in Tucson and a Presbyterian clergy.woman) but to her concept of these prayers as an offering to God and to thewider Christian community. A preface and introduction explain both the writer'spersonal history and the process through which the book came to be. Eachreflection roots itself in a chapter from the Rule, specifically a verse or twofrom Patrick Barry's translation. Understandably some chapters are combined(e.g., 23.30 on the penal code) and some are expanded (each step of humilitymerits its own poem).
The book possesses several strengths. Srubas' idea of writing as a valuabletool in engaging with sacred texts could easily be a jumping-off place formonastic ongoing formation committees, oblate groups, or parish adult educationprograms. Her articulation that her poems are "responses to" the Rule, not"translations of," is appreciated for its respect for Benedict's text and thetradition of scholarly interpretation.
And, most importantly, some of the poems hit those truths about how God is, andhow we do--or do not--respond. Her reflection on chapter 43, "Lateness for theWork of God or in the Refectory," packs a delicious moment of self-recognitionfor most of us. I think:
A singular, demanding note,
the bell of disciplined devotion,
intervenes in the day. Didn't I already pray?
What more is there to say, so soon?
As poetry, the pieces are somewhat uneven, and not all may ring true toexperiences of Benedictine life. But, of course, they're not meant to. They areone person's meditations. One of the gifts of the text may be to drive thereader to pick up pencil and paper and name her or his response to theparticular chapter, especially if it's significantly different from the author's.
So whether one picks up Oblation: Meditations on St. Benedzct's Rule ona Greyhound bus or in a choir stall, in solitude or the company of others, itis a worthwhile endeavor. The book is yet another vehicle on the ever-expandinglandscape of ways to encounter the Rule of Benedict.
Susan Quaintance, O.S.B., St. Seholastica Monastery, Chicago, IL
This tiny book is a collection of prayers, in the form of poems, based on the rule of St. Benedict, whose 1500-year-old guide to a faithful life is used today in a variety of prayer communities. The author, Presbyterian minister Rachel Srubas, is an oblate-a member of the community of the Benedictine Sisters of Perpetual Adoration-who considers Benedict's teachings to be "the practical wisdom of the Christian gospel-" Srubas introduces us to contemplative prayer. Already a practitioner of lectio divina, which she calls "listening to the gospel with the ears of the heart," she was led to lectio scriptio, the writing of prayers. The strength of these prayers is in their everyday-ness, in their use of images taken from the common objects and struggles we all confront. The poems are both adventuresome and quieting as they focus on the smallest moments of our humanity and life of the spirit. As poetry these pieces are the work of an accomplished, compelling voice. They draw from spiritual hunger, joy, discipline and silence. Oblation is also the remarkable story of a spiritual journey. As such it is a welcome traveling companion for solitary personal reflections or for small groups which are engaged in a communal walk of faith. This tiny book of prayers is a welcome traveling companion for groups and individuals engaged in a walk of faith.
Graham Christian Library Journal January 20, 2006
These two books deserve dual consideration. Both issued by Paraclete, they make a powerful case for the revival of one of the less well known monastic traditions of the West, the "oblates," who, while remaining laypeople in a lay life, are affiliated with a monastic house by their adherence to some of the basic tenets of the Benedictine rule. Tvedten (director, Oblates, Blue Cloud Abbey, SD) explains the history of Benedictine monasticism simply but in some detail as well as the history of oblates and their place in contemporary monastic houses, both Catholic and non-Catholic Benedictine. Srubas, herself both a Benedictine oblate and a Presbyterian clergywoman, has written a collection of poem-like prayers and meditations directed at oblates and inspired by the Benedictine rule. These volumes cast fresh light on a little-known practice and should interest many readers. For most collections.