As Americans we are always on the move. We go away to school. We frequently change jobs. We change churches and political parties. Staying in one place, literally or figuratively, does not seem to be part of our makeup. Whether it is because we desire change, we get bored, want new challenges, get frustrated, for whatever reason we tend to be always moving on.
In some ways this is fine but the problem is that when we don’t like how things are going we immediately think of moving or changing. Frustrated with how things are going on the job? Change jobs! The relationship with our spouse or our friends isn’t what it once was? Get divorced or find new friends! Our church or political party has changed and we don’t agree with what they are saying? Leave the church or the party!
In this culture of constant change Benedictines point to another way. One of the promises that we make at profession is “stability.” This means that we commit to be part of this particular community, this monastery, for the rest of our lives. We will change, the community will change, the world will change but we say that we won’t leave.
Making this promise is probably a lot like marriage vows. At the time you make them it doesn’t seem like it could be that hard. But of course the insidious challenge comes years down the line. We don’t live in the same community we enter. We change, everyone else changes, the world changes around us. Our enthusiasm may fade, our understanding of this way of life might change radically. We begin to see the limitations, the brokenness, the pettiness of a group of people trying to live together and frequently failing to be their best selves.
But the real issue is what do we do with these struggles, this disillusionment? To be a Benedictine means to stay and work it through. This is stability. Stability means doing the hard inner work of refusing to leave when things are not what I expected or hoped for. Stability is a source of deep humility when I recognize that my desire for something different, my anger or frustration stems from my own limitations as much or more than anyone else’s. Stability also forces me to realize that I cannot be self-sufficient, I need the support of others. The journey is about us. We are in this journey together and cannot venture off on our own.
We live in a society that encourages us to think that we don’t really need to do the hard work of transformation. We often feel that instant gratification takes too long. But Benedict knew that the spiritual journey is one that happens when we go ever deeper in the same place. By making the public promise to stay with our commitments, to stay within what may feel like the confines of our lives and limitations, only then will we really face our problems which are usually staring back at us in the mirror. In stability we don’t take the easy way out, we stay and face our need for grace. Through stability we come to embrace our limitations which are the source of our need for God.