Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Column: Elected Stability

Can you tell I'm ready to be home?

The photo is from a relief hanging in the western cloister at Wernersville.

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard & Times 17 November 2010.


One thing I ask of the Lord; this I seek: To dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life. — Ps. 27:4a

“There are four kinds of monks,” begins the Rule of St. Benedict: those that stay put and have a rule of life, those who go unbound by a common obedience and those who have neither rule nor stable community — the wanderers, the gyrovagues.

Benedict, not surprisingly, looked most favorably on those monks who lived in community, under a rule and an abbot, and even musters a word or two of praise for hermits and anchorites. But the gyratory monks who “all their lives wander in different countries staying in various monasteries for three or four days at a time,” St. Benedict can find nothing to praise in their “wretched life style.”

I need no encouragement from the good saint. After six weeks of wandering in different countries, spending three or four or 10 days sleeping in various hostels and the occasional airplane seat, I’m more than ready to give up my gyratory ways.

Though grateful for the technology that lets me see their faces as well as hear their voices wherever I go, I miss my family deeply when I travel. Drinking my morning cup of tea at a desk, while they eat their dessert half a day and half a world away, is not the same as sharing the same meal at the same table. Clearly I have, as 11th century Benedictine monk St. Anselm advised, “set down roots of love” in the community in which I have professed my vows. My family.

What surprised me, though, was how much I missed the community I pray with. The first morning back at Lauds, as the other side took up its strophe of the psalm, I felt suddenly relieved of a burden I did not know I was carrying. I was not making this time of prayer alone, but was gathered into the rhythm of the community’s voice, as we handed the work of God carefully back and forth over the altar.

St. Benedict called the community a workshop for stability, a spot to learn the virtue of being present to God in the place where you are. Here and now. In the place we have set down our roots of love. For Benedict’s monks, that place was built of real stones and mortar. Most of us must instead seek an interior stability, rooted less in an enclosed place and more in an encompassing love.

The community I celebrate the Liturgy of the Hours with been a good workshop to help me build an interior stability, a monastery of the heart. The work demands presence. It teaches me to keep my mind here and now, and simultaneously to be ready to grasp what is being handed to me.

In his Genesse Diary, Father Henri Nouwen, exhausted by his own travels, reflected on this inner stability, that whether he was “at home or … in a train, plane or airport, I would not feel irritated ... and desirous of being somewhere else ... I would know that here and now is what counts … because it is God Himself who wants me at this time in this place.”

To elect St. Benedict’s virtue of stability, is to move beyond being resigned to where I am, beyond patiently enduring the vicissitudes of travel — or of life at home — but to desire with all my heart to see what God wants me to see. Here and now. In this place and at this time.


God our Father, great builder of the heavenly Jerusalem, You know the number of the stars and call each of them by name. Heal hearts that are broken, gather together those who have been scattered, and enrich us all from the plentitude of Your eternal wisdom. Amen. — Psalm prayer from Morning Prayer, Thursday, Week IV

5 comments:

  1. The relief is of the Journey Into Egypt. I have one, too, which I was thinking of using for Christmas cards!

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  2. Great minds think alike? That's why I took the photo last time I was up there :)

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  3. I have been amazed at how much you have been away from PA. Adventures are grand, but they can be so tiring.

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  4. I'm changing the name of my blog to something w/ "gyrovague". That is one cool word and has some poetic resonance.

    The monastery of the heart - that's very good. Praying with a community in a monastery is unlike any other experience of religous I've encountered - coincidentally, the one in Genesse.

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