My Benedictine Rule: A Haibun of Reflections

Holy Wisdom Monastery Benedictine Bridge, Oblates 1 Comment

by David McKee


Concerning the word “haibun”…

The writing and study of haiku is one of the pillars of my life. So, I have chosen to express my Rule in the form of a haibun:  a Japanese literary form which consists of prose interspersed with haiku. The relationship of the haiku to the prose is often mysterious. They make sense to me, and I hope they make some sense to you.

Though I am giving what follows the title of “Rule,” it is essentially a series of reflections on the spiritual dimensions of my life and how they are interwoven with the Benedictine principles that have been most resonant for me in the formation process.

Concerning the word “oblate”…

waning gibbous moon

so much left

to pour out

To be an oblate means to make an oblation:  a pouring out, a sacrifice. This has a deep resonance for me: a life of pouring out, of emptying oneself and, thereby, open to being filled with God.  As someone on the contemplative journey, this paradoxical image of emptying-and-filling is the central guide for my Rule.

Concerning “practices”…

cottonwood fluff

                        trying so hard

                        to give up trying

If a personal Benedictine rule is a trellis to guide the growth of my life, the rungs of my trellis are practices:  the regular, repeated routines and relationships of my everyday life that exemplify key Benedictine values. These practices are skillful means to the end of purity of heart: to live focused on Mary of Bethany’s “one thing necessary”–the abiding presence of God–letting go of attachment to my unavoidable cravings and aversions.


prayer at dawn

                        the chambered nautilus


My practice of prayer is both private and communal, and it takes a few different forms:

  • daily practice of contemplative prayer or zazen
  • daily practice of studying and writing poetry, primarily haiku; this is my lectio divina, with the oratio aspect of the process being my own writing.
  • regular attendance at the Midwest Soto Zen Community for zazen and chanting
  • regular participation in a centering prayer group at Holy Wisdom Monastery
  • participation in Zen sesshin (retreats) and Benedictine retreats
  • attending the Sunday Assembly of Holy Wisdom Monastery for the prayer of the eucharist

words of consecration

billions of neutrinos passing through

our one body

A final prayer practice is my work as a psychotherapist.  At its most effective, this work is the practice of presence, without judgement or preconceptions; putting myself in the position that offers the least resistance to the inner reality of the client; to accept, hold, and even love that reality. It is the extension to the other of the same attitude toward oneself that is cultivated in interior prayer.

Prayer is at the heart of my daily life. Through prayer, I work at achieving purity of heart, which is the contemplative foundation for the Benedictine principles that have been key for me during my formation year:  humility, obedience, and community. The regular routines of prayer are the means by which I open to the ongoing conversion of my life.


oak leaves becoming soil

                        before any steps

                        of humility

To practice humility is to accept what is; to accept the reality of myself and others. It means embracing and, ultimately, loving what is real. It means living in accordance with that truth, rather than living according to ideas about how I want or don’t want myself and the world to be. Humility is living in accordance with how I am being created moment to moment.

My relationships with significant others are my school of humility:

  • marriage
  • family
  • friendships
  • my Zen teacher
  • fellow seekers
  • clients
  • work colleagues

It is through the challenge and support of all these others that I continually learn who and what I am, and learn to accept, embrace, and love that truth. This is an unending conversion.


wind chimes moving

                        just enough

                        to be silent

Though she did not know she was talking about obedience, a wise woman once said to me that the key to any successful relationship is in saying three words: “Maybe you’re right.” This is a very simple but very difficult practice. It requires deepening my capacity for silence, inside and out. It means listening to the other and all that he or she is saying. It means resisting the familiar impulse to launch into formulating my own response. To be under obedience to others means accepting the possibility that they are right; that maybe their voice is the voice of God.

wrensong unraveling an old argument

My relationships with significant others are my school of obedience. Through them I learn to listen and be open to their possible influence. This is an unending conversion.


lake stones

smoothing each other

she invites me in

Community has been a challenging Benedictine principle for me. At the beginning of this formation year, I was resistant to the format of the retreats.  I wanted more solitude and silence.  But, as the year unfolded, I began to see that becoming an oblate was about belonging to a community. I was witness to and impressed by the intimacy among the more seasoned oblates.  Eventually, I made the choice to surrender to the community formation process, seeking connection instead of  solitude. It has been a significant transformation. In practical terms, my wife and I decided to gather with other candidates for meetings between the retreats, to share our experiences. This has been very helpful to our formation process. This group will continue on as a reflection circle after we are fully fledged as oblates.  It is an unending conversion.

home from retreat

fallen leaves

cling to our shoes

Epilogue:  Obedience to the Earth

There is an implicit goal in these reflections: to deepen my fidelity to the guiding Benedictine principles of humility, obedience, and community. The way to that goal is the daily practice of prayer and right relationship. There is one principle, however, that began to emerge in my last few months of formation. I call it Obedience to the Earth. For me, this means recapturing an intimacy with the land that had been a central part of my life in recent years. My devotion to haiku poetry grew from this relationship with the land. In the last two or three years, this relationship has faded a bit. I used to take a slow, meditative walk in the conservancy park near my home almost every day, no matter what the weather. I feel the need to be more attentive to the natural world, and want to reinstitute my walking practice on a more regular basis.

lectio divina . . .

slowly reading

the burr oak

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