A Vow of Stability
The onslaught of COVID-19 has displaced our regular patterns and rhythms. Children are no longer in schools. Many of us are now homebound–either working from a distance or having lost our jobs entirely. There isn’t much we are allowed to do outside of our homes aside from a walk or a car ride to the closest grocery store. For the foreseeable future malls and restaurants are closed, travel is very limited, and our summer vacation plans are on hold. “Social distancing” means for many of us a lot more time at home with family and/or housemates. It is ironic that a virus so socially and economically destabilizing has left most of us more geographically stable than ever before. How might this restrictive geographic stability of home and place foster the spiritual expansion of our souls?
In the 58th chapter of The Rule of St. Benedict, St. Benedict lists the three “vows” of a Benedictine monk; “ . . . he must promise stability, conversion of his way of life and obedience before God and his saints . . . ” Whereas most religious communities take the three traditional vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience, the Benedictines have fostered a unique practice–the vow of “stability.”
Stability comes from the Latin stabilis, which means to be still, stand firm, and/or be rooted. For Benedictines stability has to do with one’s geography. Benedictine monks are cenobites, who, according to St. Benedict, are the most “stable” monks, because they are committed to living in a certain monastery within a particular community of monks. Additionally, Benedictine monks are stabilized by a rule of life, which orders their day. All of this outward stability serves to stabilize their inner spiritual lives. The vow of stability is at once about rootedness in time, space, and habit and rootedness in the spirit through virtues like “steadfastness,” “fortitude,” and “faithfulness” (to God and to others).
Jesus taught us about stability: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock” (Matt. 7:24). Since Jesus first offered this analogy, the house or home has served as a metaphor of the soul for contemplatives (St. Teresa of Avila, for example, refers to the soul as The Interior Castle). Yet, this is not merely a metaphor—contemplatives have always insisted that our outer lives will inevitably mirror our inner lives, and vice versa. The point of the Martha/Mary distinction (Luke 10:38–42) for contemplatives is precisely that we are meant to cultivate a way of life that brings harmony between our spiritual lives (Mary) and our active existences (Martha) in whatever place and vocation we find ourselves. Thus to take a vow of stability is it to cultivate a way of life in which our outer and inner lives mutually reinforce and strengthen one another. This is how we build our house upon Christ the rock.
In a recent letter discussing the impact of COVID-19 upon the Bay Area community, Fr. José Medina encouraged his readers, “Let us take seriously our present condition and live the experience of that monastery which is our home . . . ” Today our spiritual and physical homes are unsettled, yet, at the same time this presents to us a unique opportunity to bring stability to our homes now that we are no longer constantly coming and going. While we are still living in isolation as a result of COVID-19 we might heed Fr. Medina’s words imagining our homes as analogous to a monastery by whose rhythms and rules we cultivate spiritual stability.
One of the foundational principles of spiritual formation is that our interior and exterior “homes” find coherence as we learn to align our will with God’s. Wrought by God’s grace, such stability is the substance of the spiritual life. We hope that the reflections and suggested practices in our series contribute to a stability of life that pervades your home and the world around you. Regardless of the circumstances in which you find yourself, may “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:7).
How to Practice Stability
- Develop a rule of life. In times of change it is good to establish new rhythms that stabilize our lives. Click here, for more on developing a rule of life.
- Establish a rhythm of daily prayer. In addition to morning and evening prayer, we might pick 2–3 times throughout the day to stop and pray. We can set alarms on our phones as a reminder.
- In the morning and throughout the day we might pray a set prayer like the “Our Father” or follow the daily office. Set prayers provide structure and rootedness. Click here, for more on praying the “Our Father.”
- In the evening pray the Examen. Ending our day with the Examen provides an opportunity to reflect spiritually on our day and prepare for the day ahead. Click here, for more on the Examen.
- Pray for one another daily. We are called to bear one another’s burdens. Sharing and prayer for one another fosters relational stability. Set aside a time that everyone can gather (perhaps after supper) for one person to share. Then as a family or group pray for him or her and commit to doing so that evening and following day.