Recently I was invited to speak to some people who were on a four-day spiritual retreat. I welcome these kinds of invitations, because it guarantees that I am in the midst of folks who want to be there. They are people who know they are on a journey and they are open to have people like me come into their midst and try to offer a thought or two to aid that journey. I find it to be a humbling experience.
I am on my own spiritual journey. Sometimes, I think I have hardly made it out of kindergarten! Most of us know the ups and downs of spiritual journeys. They are anything but straight lines from beginning to perfection. My own journey tends to go in fits and starts. I make some progress and, then, fall back and need to start all over. I don’t think this is unusual. So I don’t get down about the pace of the process. After all, it is a lifetime journey. I’m in no hurry!
The good people who invited me to come into their midst were using some material from St. Benedict’s spiritual tradition to help them in their journeys. Benedict is the sixth century Italian founder of a monastery. Benedict sought a way to live more intentionally and seriously his spiritual life. He did not feel like he could do that in his normal world. So he opted for a way of life that was not novel. But Benedict did give monasticism a special focus.
There are many important features to the monastic way of life as Benedict crafted it. One crucial aspect was the community dimension. Benedict was sure his own spiritual journey would be aided if he were living in community---with a group of men who were on their own serious spiritual journey. And so that community dimension is a continuing feature of Benedictine monasteries now nearly fifteen hundred years later.
Since this community dimension is a given for Benedictines, the question arises, what do I need to do if I want to join the community---even fifteen hundred years later? Not surprisingly, there is a process that we would undertake. If we were accepted, we finally would make three vows. Surprisingly, the three vows we would take, if we were to join the Benedictines, are not poverty, chastity and obedience. The only one of these vows actually made by a Benedictine novice is obedience.
The first vow taken by a new monk in the Benedictine tradition is the vow of stability. This should not surprise us, if we recall how serious the community dimension is for the Benedictine. By taking the vow of stability, the new monk promises to align himself or herself (yes, there are Benedictine nuns) to a single community. In effect, the monk is saying, “you are the people with whom I want to live and this is the place I choose to live the rest of my life.”
For example, I might make the vow to join the monastery in Snowmass, CO. If accepted, I expect to live the rest of my life in Snowmass and die and be buried there. I made my promise and settle in with the full expectation this is my place and these are my people as long as I shall live. This is not the outlook on the part of very many Americans. But let’s look at this vow to see its potential and promise.
To vow stability with a community allows me to settle in with a group of people who also have made that vow. In effect, we all agree to stay put and get on with our more important work, namely, growing more and more fully into the men and women God wants us to be. We know the community is there to help us. We know the community is stable; no one is chasing their own career dreams.
There are many things we could explore here, but I want to treat only one thing. Stability is a commitment to a people and a place. It is a commitment to a monastery, but more significantly, to the group of people who make up the monastery. The community could actually decide to relocate to another place and the community commitment of stability would make that move together. It is a communal commitment to the spiritual growth and development of each person within the community.
The most important thing stability is that it is different than being “stuck.” To take a vow of stability is certainly not to promise to become stuck! To the contrary. A vow of stability is a promise to stay on course of growth and development. This makes sense to me, even though I obviously am not a monk. I have made a vow of stability so I can stay on course of my own growth and development. It is to stay with it instead of stay stuck.
Undoubtedly, there are many folks who are stuck in life where they are. Ironically, we can have all sorts of freedom---to live where we want, we do what we want, etc. But we can be stuck. We can be emotionally stuck or spiritually stuck. We can look free as a bird and effectively stuck as a car in a huge traffic jam that may not be worth it if we can ever get there!
I appreciate my commitment to stability. It frees and allows me to get on with my important work of spiritually growing and developing. Stability frees me from getting stuck chasing the illusions of my life that would not reward, even if I were to “get” my illusion. I am not stuck on getting rich, famous or any other goal that does not have ultimate worth. Stability frees me to learn to live life fully present to the Presence of God.