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Monk in the World guest post: Wil Hernandez

I first met Wil Hernandez through one of the Spiritual Directors International conferences.  He has an irresistible passion for this work of spiritual formation, direction, and supporting people in listening to the voice of the Spirit at work in the world. He has just launched an exciting new project: CenterQuest School of Spiritual Direction, is a fellow Benedictine oblate, and is the author of a trilogy of excellent books on Henri Nouwen, the third in the series released last year, Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension, is especially powerful reading.

Read on for Wil’s reflections on being a monk in the world:

wil hernandez 1I’m a proud Oblate of Saint Andrew’s Abbey in Valyermo, California! After five faithful years of attending a monthly Oblates group in the San Fernando Valley area, I finally professed my vow during the Feast of Saint Benedict last March of 2012. I’ve always wanted to be an Oblate and have dreamt about the occasion of my final oblation as one of the sacred moments of my own spiritual journey. There I stood on that special day, in front of a few close friends, vowing to live by the Rule of Saint Benedict as a layperson in the world. It was a highly emotional moment for me, even as I confidently took on the name of St. John of the Cross (Juan de la Cruz in Filipino and Spanish) as my Oblate’s name.

Little did I expect that in less than three months after that glorious event, I would plunge into my own version of my dark night experience that would haunt me for the remainder of that year. I could not, for the life of me, make sense of such seemingly ironic twist of fate. Admittedly, it even made me seriously question why in the first place I chose John of the Cross as my saint of preference. Why did I become an Oblate to begin with?

Wil Hernandez ValyermoIt all started in early 2004! Through the encouragement of my former spiritual director—a long time Benedictine monk at Valyermo—I was privileged to be admitted to the Abbey for a period of six months (in and out) while I worked on my dissertation writing on the spirituality of Henri Nouwen. I was given a special room up on the hill, separated from all the rest, to concentrate on my work. I remembered how, each time the bell rung for the observance of the liturgy of the hours, I’d hesitate to come down to join the monks at the chapel for fear that it would break my momentum for writing. Grudgingly, I’d make my way down with a tinge of guilt, thinking it was the least I could do for the incredible hospitality extended to me by the monks. Slowly, but surely, I found myself being drawn in over time by the beauty of the liturgy. My day would seem incomplete if I missed one of the prayer offices. Without me realizing it, I gradually fell in love with the rhythm of it all and even begun to experience in more ways than one the transforming power of the liturgy in my own life. It’s not an exaggeration to mention that my regular participation in the liturgy was what inspired and sustained my otherwise unexciting writing process. I was so impacted by the whole routine that I found myself eagerly appropriating the practice on my own even after I was done with my stay at the Abbey. To this day, I rarely miss praying the Lauds first thing in the morning and ending my evening with the Compline.

Now back to my own dark night episode: It’s actually been a while now since that unwanted experience occurred. Looking back, I do have a clue as to how it all happened. Soon after my oblation, I found myself deeply immersed in the busyness of my work, which only led to my sense of coming unglued as a person—experiencing fragmentation more than integration. Before I knew it, when I was confronted with all sorts of challenges connected with my job, I was far from being in a stable state of groundedness. Put it simply, I was caught off guard by the turn of events because I was not as centered as I should be.  I became susceptible to everything that was opposite of anything identified with harmony, balance, stability; I was completely decentered and I did not even know it.

In retrospect, the one valuable interior lesson I learned through my painful “dark night” has to do with the vital role of presence and its direct relationship with a life of centeredness. Suffice it to say, I lost my footing because I lost my own center. For me, being a monk in the world is staying fully centered in God, experiencing a profound sense of at-homeness and interior stillness despite the outside chaos that may surround us at any time. I keep reminding myself, as simple as it may sound, that the rhythm of the prayer liturgy, is foremost, my lifeline for sustained experience of centeredness. And each time I find myself again on the edge of succumbing to the tyranny of busyness, of entering into my cluttered and occupied space, that I need to leave room for God to have the rightful place in the Center of it all. When I fail (and I bet I will continue to do so), I just need to reclaim the Benedictine saying: “Always we begin again!”

Wil Hernandez CQWil is the author of a trilogy on Henri Nouwen: Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection, Henri Nouwen and Soul Care: A Ministry of Integration, and the most recent Henri Nouwen and Spiritual Polarities: A Life of Tension. He is also the founder and president of CenterQuest (CQ) – an ecumenical hub for the study and practice of Christian spirituality (

CQ is launching the inaugural cohort for its School of Spiritual Direction (SSD) in the fall of 2014. Early applications are now being accepted. Check out:




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11 Responses

  1. Wil – What a great testimony of the practical application of what you have both taught me and reinforced in me. You told me one time regarding centering prayer that it was important to just show up – that although sometimes that is all you feel you can do, it is important to do it anyway! That is what I was thinking of as I read this. “Wil has been ‘showing up'” just like he encouraged me to do.” Needless to say, you are bright spot for so many. Thank you for sharing your journey with us, my friend. I so look forward to the future.

  2. Thanks, Wil. This sounds not dissimilar to my own attempts at prayer regularity. Morning Lauds is usually a pretty easy go for me. Midday prayer…dodgy but possible. Evening prayer…well, I suppose I’m just too lazy sometimes! Thanks for sharing your practice, Wil.

  3. Rob, because of my “crazy” schedule, the only two regular hours I consistently observe are the Lauds and Compline (almost without fail!). I do pause during noontime every once in a while do my midday prayer and do Vespers here and there but that’s not always possible for obvious reasons (unless I’m at the Abbey :). Having a scheduler of some kind (like Outlook) alert me through a “bell” sound, “forces” me to stop and attend to the hours; otherwise it’s so easy to let that even be swallowed up by other seemingly pressing demands on my day. And I make it a point to start my morning with centering meditation before anything else and combine the daily examine with my night prayer. The rhythm has kept me sane and I say that with full disclosure! Thanks for asking!

  4. Wil, this is encouraging on many levels. I’ve contemplated oblation myself for some time now. I am a lay Jesuit having complete a year long Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. But the Benedictine rhythms of praying the hours, stability, hospitality…it all is so tantalizing. However, my particular career as a church music director/liturgist often denies such regularity, specifically during Advent. How has this worked for you, especially knowing how incredibly busy you are?

  5. Thanks Rick. As my friend Dan puts it, sometimes we do experience what he calls the “terrible beauty of transformation.” Then afterwards, we realize it truly can be a gift from God!

  6. Wil, what a gift you and your journey is for others. The path downward is not what you had in mind, and yet it was God’s perfect gift given your new name and season of life. Thank you for sharing the fruit of this gift in your work, writings and life.

  7. I had not looked at it that way Val, but you’re right … the spirit of St. John accompanied me along the way during that dark period. But not only that, he tagged along with him flesh and blood folks who came through for me. And you’re one of them and I thank you! God indeed is the redeemer of all things!

  8. Wil, I love your heart of transparency here. We have all been there and yet I hear something of an invitation beyond your words, “I could not, for the life of me, make sense of such seemingly ironic twist of fate” and from the beautiful story that surely had its part in your redemption from this dark night. The mere fact that the idea of choosing St. John of the Cross for a name signifies (to me) that God was with you and went before you by giving you a companion for that time of darkness (knowingly as only God could know what you needed for redemption). I can only imagine how the Spirit of SJC accompanied you as an anam cara. I am convinced every one of us needs these dark spots and in hindsight (as both you and SJC could attest), and as Paul describes it well…they become light and momentary in light of what they produce in us. Thank you for opening this door of your heart and journey with us.