Oblate Program at Belmont Abbey, NC

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materialism-webEvery once in awhile, one of my friends will ask me why I am so obsessed with death, time and the overall fragility of life. I am always surprised by that question, since I am not sure ‘being obsessed’ is the right adjective to use. I am pretty much an average person and I would venture to say, that the many test I have taken to see how I am doing psychologically, all point to the fact that I am pretty middle of the road, common, though that does not have to mean boring. So because of that, it takes no great leap of faith to believe that others also think along these same lines.

There are both great depths that can be found in life, as well as absurdities. In the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible (the Old Testament for Christians) deals with it quite well. In fact it starts off with this sentence: “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity”; and that first sentence, has always stayed with me. Another quote, one of my favorites is: “much ado over nothing”, also sums up a large portion of life; well it does for me anyway. I don’t know if this is being negative, dark, depressed, or if it is indeed something real and perhaps is an important lesson for all to learn. In any case I am sure that it is a common subject that many ponder over, throughout the long or short years of their lives. It is just not something that is discussed at juniors’ birthday party, family gatherings, weddings etc. For many the subject comes up after they have had a few drinks, when inhibitions or lowered and that is when philosophical discussion begins. I have had moments like that and have found them rewarding; some friendships have started over such encounters. A great deal of literature and philosophy and yes theology, have been printed about the central issues of life. Perhaps the main one is simply that we will all die, for some I think that is the only one, all the other question flow from that one reality: ‘death’.

Nothing can really be held on to. Time takes care of that for us. It can be possessions, friends, brothers and sisters, spouses, children, well anything, eventually one by one they fall out of our life, or we fall out of theirs. I don’t know why it is considered negative to dwell on such subjects. It seems to me that when these truths are considered, many others areas of life will fall into place. If these last things are not pondered, then life can be squandered on nonsense, cotton candy, boxes with nice covers, with a pretty ribbon, but inside, there is no gift, just disappointment and for many loneliness.

Things, no matter how pretty, in the end are merely objects. Good in themselves, but they are not ends, they are just ‘things’. It seems, at least for the people that I have known; want something more. They want ‘subjects’ in their lives, that make all the’ objects’ worthwhile, but without that everything is empty, lonely, a gelded prison of sorts. Bars of diamonds, windows made of Tiffany glass, comfortable beds with gold and silver post, silk bed spreads; in the end however, a cell of cold, empty, isolation. Things are good to have, but if one is alone or empty inside, they bring cold comfort. Without relationship everything is flat, empty, absurd.

We are made for substance, reality, that which endures, yet often blinded by baubles. Forgetting the brevity of our lives, we can let others slip through our fingers, never to return. Life is precious because it is short. It is something limited, transitory, vapor; which is what gives it its intensity. So to be aware of the shortness of life; the reality that life does turn on a dime, can prompt us to live better, deeper, more fulfilling lives. True richness is the love of others and yes the ability to love in return which often takes courage and perseverance. Without that true color is drained from life, only gaudiness remaining.

Being a believer, a Christian, there is also something much deeper. So deep and enduring that even if all is lost and one is alone, isolated; well there is still ‘the’ relationship that all others point to. The prize that we all seek in our many wanderings in our lives; to be truly seen, loved, and looked upon as a true ‘subject’ and not as a mere ‘object’. For me that is the relationship with the divine, also the relationship of the divine with each of us, for we are pursued, for all else fails in the end, infinite love does not. For that is what we are made for, both a gift and a curse at times; we are pilgrims after all. We seek a place of rest, but there is none, for we are on a journey, and time is road we travel upon. This is not often a pleasant prospect, for truly life can be a hard journey for most of us, but in the end as Lady Julian says: “all will be well”. For some I am being infantile, well I let others believe what they want, for me I will dive into the arms of the infinite lover of us all; others must do what they think best for them. For I am the judge of no one; we are all on the same journey. Hopefully we can help each other along and not hinder with contempt, for that is truly is what makes others mere objects.

Br. Mark Dohle, OCSO
Holy Spirit Monastery

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  1. Right on Brother. After my parents died (one week apart) my sibling and I had to go through their stuff. Our parents were children of the Depression and kept everything. We had to throw away more stuff than I thought possible. My father loved the WalMart picture special of 2 for the price of one, we threw away boxes of pictures. After they passed, I was hires as a Chaplain for a hospice company. Again, I saw how things did not matter as much as one's relationship to God, family and friends. Things can be good, in some cases necessary, but they are not what is truly important. As a oblate, I am finding more value in St. Benedict's Rule especially in regards to ownership of things and silence. Pray for me that I may grow more faithful in being an oblate of St. Benedict.