How to be a Monastic and Not Leave Your Day Job:
An Invitation to Oblate Life
By Brother Benet Tvedten
Brewster, Massachusetts: Paraclete Press, 2006
Review by Carl McColman
A charming and easy read, this book celebrates the unique spirituality of Benedictine oblates — individuals who are not monastics but who choose to integrate the wisdom of the Rule of Saint Benedict into their lives while also forming a special relationship with a particular monastery. Oblates (the word comes from the Latin for “offering”) offer themselves as dedicants to the Benedictine way of life, while remaining “in the world.” Oblates can be either women or men, Catholic or Protestant, clergy or ordained – the only requirement is a sincere interest in Benedictine spirituality, a willingness to be spiritually formed in accordance with the wisdom of the Rule, and a desire to explore this dimension of faith in relationship with a monastic community.
Brother Benet Tvedten has been the Director of Oblates for Blue Cloud Abbey in South Dakota since the 1970s. As such, he is the monk who provides guidance and support to the many non-monastic women and men who come to his community seeking the wisdom of the Benedictine way. Given his long-standing ministry to the oblates of his community, he is in a unique position to reflect on the unique gifts of oblate life and how monks and oblates can provide inspiration, encouragement, and spiritual nurture to each other.
In this book Brother Benet sketches the history of oblates, from the ancient practice of fostering young boys to a monastery all the way up to developments in our times (the practice of allowing both men and women to become oblates of communities of either monks or nuns is a twentieth century innovation). He devotes several chapters to the most essential of Benedictine values, including hospitality, stability, continual conversion, justice and peace. He notes how ordinary and unadorned the Benedictine tradition is, pointing out that this is not a path for extraordinary “mystics” so much as a discipline for anyone interested in deepening their walk of faith. The author notes that Benedictine spirituality truly is Christian spirituality – there is nothing exotic or extraordinary in the Benedictine way; on the contrary, here is a spirituality defined by its very simplicity and earthiness.
Not everyone is called to be a monk or a nun. But thanks to Brother Tvedten’s accessible invitation to consider oblate life, perhaps more people will taste the blessings of Benedictine wisdom than ever before. The author sees oblates as bridges between the hidden world of the cloister and the “everyday” world in which most of us live and work. Oblates are like ambassadors – fluent in both cultures and able to convey meaning between the two. Not only is this a rare and beautiful gift, but — for those who are called to it — oblate life is a source of joy and meaning. Brother Benet has done a fine job at putting into words the poetic beauty of this singular spiritual path.
This book is part of Paraclete Press’ “A Voice From the Monastery Series.” If the series can be judged by this title, then it’s well worth exploring.