Benedictine Stability  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Of the three vows made by Benedictine monks at their final profession, one is that of "stability". What is monastic stability and how might it apply to those of us living in the so-called real world? Edward C Sellner in his highly recommended book Finding the Monk Within (HiddenSpring, Mahwah, NJ, 2008) discusses precisely this topic on pp 222-226. He helpfully subdivides the notion of stability into three concepts: stability of place, stability of community, and stability of heart. Existing as we do in a society that encourages us to change jobs, living spaces, and lovers every two or three years, such an idea would come across as downright radical to many people. Let's hear Sellner's thoughts:

Stability of Place

The first understanding of stability, that related to geographical location or sense of place, recognizes the monastic value of staying put, affirmed by the desert Christians in one of their wisdom sayings: "Sit in your cell and it will teach you everything."...Stability is perceived as an antidote to the restlessness of mind and heart in which a person constantly searches for new experiences, new relationships, and new geographical locations to escape difficulties or to solve problems by avoiding them. This unceasing search for the new and extravagant, of course, can too often make life and relationships superficial, and any intimacy between people extremely fragile...Benedict cautions us against the trend of making rootlessness a virtue. Rather, he counsels us to be mindful of the moment, to stay rooted in the present, perhaps above all to learn to wait patiently.

Stability of Community

For Benedictines, commitment to place is related directly to committing oneself to a specific community, a particular family of monks. Stability in this sense involves embracing one family, one community; opening oneself to the conflicts and growing pains, joys and celebrations of particular relationships of friendship and love. Benedict's Rule helps us to see that geography of place and geography of family are one terrain.

This commitment to a specific community or family can lead to greater freedom and joy as one at the same time learns firsthand the meaning of loyalty, persistence, patience, and forgiveness; the ability to accept and work with others' limitations as one learns to accept one's own.

Stability of Heart

....Centering our hearts on God can counteract our inner restlessness of heart, which Augustine describes in his autobiography. It can help us to listen, as John the beloved disciple did, to the heartbeat of God. It can also give us the courage to open the secrets of our hearts to one another, as John Cassian recommended. Benedict's gift and intuition were that stability of place and of community is ultimately about stability of heart. This is why, most likely, he begins his "Tools for Good Works" in chapter 4 with the admonition of Jesus: "First of all, 'love the Lord God with your whole heart, your whole soul and all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself'". In staying grounded, sitting in one's cell, paying attention to the moment, we too might experience not only the presence of God, but also revelations that come, as they did to Benedict, in a flash of light. Stability of heart, centering our hearts in God, allows us to truly listen to the heart and the wisdom it waits to convey.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, December 16, 2008 at Tuesday, December 16, 2008 and is filed under . You can follow any responses to this entry through the comments feed .



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