In a recent class with Sister Paz Vital and Novice Denise West, we discussed the Benedictine promise of stability. Sometimes stability is thought of as staying in the same place with the same people for the rest of your life. Stability has that aspect to it, but there is more. Michael Casey, Cistercian monk from Tarrawarra Abbey in Australia, uses the image of a surf boarder to describe the dynamic character of Benedictine stability. A surfer needs both a strong center and an ability to adjust her weight and position of her feet on the board in order to maintain balance in the changing surf.
That analogy is helpful in thinking about how stability serves to help Benedictines remain rooted in our core faith and values and adjust to the changing needs and circumstances of our times. At our core is our commitment to seeking God with a particular community of people. At our core is also a commitment to a particular set of values and ways of being in community: listening, respect, hospitality, humility, moderation and others.
Father Jerome Kodell, OSB, from Subiaco Abbey in Arkansas, presenter at the September 2017 Benedictine Retreat, spoke about another concept that illumined for me another way that stability works in our lives. He called us to reflect on what is in the foreground and what is in the background of our lives. With our instant communication and 24 hour news availability, the latest tragedies are constantly before us and it is easy to become overwhelmed by the immensity of the suffering or by the fear of what might happen next. If this is constantly in our foreground, we are easily thrown off balance and become immobilized by fear or our inability to relieve all the suffering we see. We can become paralyzed by this.
Father Jerome called us to remember what is in our background, what serves as our backbone, so to speak, which is our faith and trust in God. When we move our faith to the foreground of our lives, we can stay balanced and find ways to respond rather than react and be thrown into despair. We put our faith in the foreground when we remember the many ways we have experienced God with us in the past. We put our faith in the foreground when we pray in trust that God is at work in our lives and in the world. When our faith is the foreground or the backbone of our lives, we have a strong and centered place to stand in responding to the crises and opportunities of our times.