Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Rule of Benedict -- Stability

Stability is a virtue that is at odds with our culture.  We want it all and we want it “yesterday.”  With microwaves, high-speed Internet, email and instant everything, we have lost the ability to be patient and wait.   In my own life, this impatience often manifests itself in expecting a same-day response to an email sent in the morning. (Update: This impatience also manifests itself in expecting an immediate response to a new Facebook status or link.)

Monastic stability consists of centeredness, commitment and relationships (Chittister, Wisdom 150).

To be centered is to have our center focused on something larger than ourselves – to be where God is and to know that God is where we are.  Recently I wrote a poem that describes my own longing for centeredness.
Looking for You

I climb a ladder to reach you,
Deep inside my spirit.

The night stars twinkle,
Dazzling light illumines the way.

I reach out my hand,
My fist grasps only air.

You can’t live long without it.

Empty rooms beckon,
I fill them with comfortable words.

Hold me close by your side,
Hold me in your light.

I eat and drink.
You fill me with nourishing hope,
Fill me with delight.

I flounder in the darkness,
Why won’t I remove the blindfold?

I Search.
And you cannot be found.

I Surrender.
And your presence surrounds me.

The last couplet, especially, points to the need to be still, to stop the frenetic activity and allow ourselves to experience the God who has been present all along.

Centeredness is what enables us to weather the changes in life over which we have no control.  This is reflected in the philosophy of twelve-step recovery groups.  Step One reads, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol (or any other addictive or problem condition) – and that our lives had become unmanageable.”  Step Two adds: “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  Step Three continues, “Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood him.”  It is that centeredness in something larger than our problems that helps us overcome them.

The next element of stability is commitment.  Commitment is another value that does not mesh with the prevailing values of our culture.  So much of our life is disposable or interchangeable.  We tend to quit when things get tough.  Commitment – sticking it out during the tough times – gives us the opportunity to learn about ourselves and the opportunity to grow.

Committed people are those who strive to be pure of heart – to be the ones who can see God wherever they look.   I wrote the following poem in response to a discussion about the "pure of heart."

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
In every one and every thing.

In the young and in the old,
In the poor and in the rich,
In the light and in the shadow,
In the heavens and on the earth.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
In every one and every thing.

In the trees and in the soil,
In sickness and in health,
In joy and in sorrow,
In life and in death.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
In every one and every thing.

Being able to see God in everyone and everything gives us the ability to respectfully listen to one another because we are responding to the presence of God in each other.  This seems easy as long as we confine this requirement to listening to those whom we like or with whom we agree.  The challenge is to respond to God’s presence in those who irritate us, wrong us, or whose views differ profoundly from our own.

The third element of stability is relationship.  The vow of stability is a call to connect deeply with others.  We confuse “community” with living in groups.  We live in apartment buildings and neighborhoods without knowing one another’s names.  We work for the same companies, attend the same schools, and never see one another (Chittister, Wisdom 155).

How can we maintain stability in a mobile society?   Rev. Lovejoy, the beleaguered pastor in Fox TV’s “The Simpsons,” sums up the lack of stability in our society in his lament: "Today's Christian doesn't think he needs God. He's got his Hi Fi, his boob tube, and his instant pizza pie."  People choose isolation over connection.  Mobility is not the enemy – alienation is.  When we are so disconnected from the world that the sufferings of others do not affect us, we become “a cardboard cutout that breathes” (Chittister, Wisdom 156-7).

So where is our hope for stability?  We hope in the consistency of God, not our own strength or fidelity.  It is God’s fidelity that keeps us going when things get tough.  Stability gives us time in life, time for God and time for others (Chittister, Wisdom 156).

Works Cited
Chittister, Joan.  The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages.  New York: The
Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999.

Chittister, Joan.  Wisdom Distilled from the Daily.  San Francisco:
Harper San Francisco, 1991.

de Waal, Esther.  Living with Contradiction: An Introduction to Benedictine
.  Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse    Publishing, 1997.

de Waal, Esther.  Seeking God.   Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1984.

Earle, Doug.  Personal Email.  14 May 2004.

Earle, Doug.  Sermon: Sixth Sunday of Easter.  St. Paul’s Episcopal Church.
    San Antonio, 16 May 2004.

Earle, Mary.  Broken Body, Healing Spirit: Lectio Divina and Living with Illness.
Harrisburg, PA: Morehouse Publishing, 2003.

Vest, Norvene.  Desiring Life.  Boston: Cowley Publications, 2000.

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