The sisters spoke on a panel at the November oblate retreat on the topic of stability and care for the earth. We each shared what stability means for us at this point in our monastic lives and what is compelling to us about caring for the land.
Stability has several layers of meaning. The most obvious definition of stability is staying in the same place with the same people. That’s how we begin practicing stability in community. For Benedict, community life is the ascetic practice. We don’t need to wear hair shirts and eat sparingly to discipline our bodies and souls. Living, working and praying closely with others, whether it is in community or family, provides plenty of opportunity to have one’s rough edges worn off. This process can be a challenge to stability. Soon, a deeper practice of stability is needed.
Now, the practice is not just staying in one place with the same people but staying in relationship as we are introduced to our shadow through encounters with others. Inevitably, when the first blush of community life or married life rubs off, there is some amount of casting around to discover what has gone wrong. This often involves some projection of one’s shadow or relationships from the past onto the current situation. Of course, this is hard to recognize, so when difficulties begin, the first finger usually points to the faults of others. Here is where stability calls for listening with humility to the other’s perspective and honestly examining my thoughts so that I can “own my own stuff.” This calls for holding my thoughts lightly until I can sort out what’s mine and what is the other’s. Here Benedict’s counsel to silence is helpful. He does not allow the silence of passive aggression or ignoring the object of our scorn. Rather, this Benedictine practice of silence is aimed at holding one’s tongue for the sake of charity. We learned this from our parents when they told us, “If you can’t say something good about the person, don’t say anything at all.” For Benedict, this means working with our thoughts to let them go so that we can allow the person to be new when we next encounter them. The popular saying these days that expresses this is, “Don’t believe everything you think.”
I think of stability at this point as doing my inner work so I can “see reality rightly.” It could be called stability of heart. We can practice stability of heart whether we stay in one place or move around. Etty Hilesum, in An Interrupted Life, counsels: “Stay at your inner post.” Her life is a witness to the fact that one does not have to live in a monastery to learn to stay at one’s inner post. She practiced this kind of stability in a concentration camp and lived a life of peace and gratitude.
Ultimately, as Christians, our stability is in God, “our only home” as we say in the Prayer of Jesus. We spend our lives seeking that home which can be found within us as we practice stability.