I’m currently competing with myself to see how many days I can go without grocery shopping. I’ve used food that has worked its way to the back of the pantry, previously hidden and overlooked. Reduced trips to my local co-op have helped me take stock of what’s already in my kitchen. Limited grocery shopping is just one of many changes that have dramatically increased the amount of time that I spend in my home. In turn, the challenges and gifts of staying at home have increased my understanding of the reason for the monastic vow of stability.
The theme of stability emerges throughout The Rule of St. Benedict as he advises monks to continue to engage in repetitive work, prayer, and community. Benedictine monks take a vow to live in a particular place and with particular people for life. A monk’s possibilities for work and relationships are limited. Benedict does not outlaw thoughtful change in a monk’s life, but he does resist habitual movement that inhibits long-term commitments. Gyrovagues, whom Benedict identifies as the worst kind of monks, “spend their entire lives drifting from region to region, staying as guests for three or four days in different monasteries. Always on the move, they never settle down, and are slaves to their own wills and gross appetites” (The Rule of St. Benedict, 1.10–11).
For better and for worse, our culture involves a lot of movement. Sometimes we travel to deepen our relationships and celebrate with loved ones. Other times we travel for leisure or to get away. Even if my travel is not fueled by my own will or gross appetite like the gyrovagues, I am less likely to engage substantially in the challenges and joys that arise from life in common if I am often absent from my community.
These last few months, we’ve all canceled vacations, Easter celebrations, graduation parties, and weekend getaways. As significant as these losses are, they also present an opportunity for us to cultivate elements of monastic stability by engaging the particular people with whom we live in the particular place where we dwell. I have more incentive to be a good housemate when I’m living and working from home and my social interactions are limited. This somewhat selfish incentive has led to practices that I’ve taken up, such as letting go of my will on small matters that I had become a bit too particular on, as well as thoughtfully taking the risk to ask for my housemates to adjust some of their behaviors that I find difficult. This labor of love, even though it began with more self-interest than I’d like to admit, has evolved through prayer and become realized in small, daily decisions which deepen my care for and understanding of these particular people.
Most of us have experienced restlessness during stay-at-home orders. Parents are caring for kids while working from home, graduates are looking for work, single people are feeling a greater need to connect. This restlessness doesn’t mean that we are doing something wrong; rather, it is holy—a portal to prayer, an invitation to consider our dependence on God and God’s love for us as we are. At its core, stability is about accepting who God created us to be; it emboldens us to recognize possibilities within that we previously could not see.
In time, we will find ourselves returning to spontaneous grocery runs and regular commutes. These cloistered-like days will come to an end, bringing both relief and challenges. I hope to return to the day’s movements and rhythms with an increased interior stability, or ability to sit quietly with myself and our God.
Have you experienced a sense of stability over the past couple of months? What are you hoping for as stay-at-home orders are lifted? Feel free to share your experiences in the comment section!
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