January 8, May 9, September 8
Chapter 1: On the Kinds of Monks
It is well known that there are four kinds of monks.
The first kind are the Cenobites:
those who live in monasteries
and serve under a rule and an Abbot.
The second kind are the Anchorites or Hermits:
no longer in the first fervor of their reformation,
but after long probation in a monastery,
having learned by the help of many brethren
how to fight against the devil,
go out well armed from the ranks of the community
to the solitary combat of the desert.
They are able now,
with no help save from God,
to fight single-handed against the vices of the flesh
and their own evil thoughts.
The third kind of monks, a detestable kind, are the Sarabaites.
These, not having been tested,
as gold in the furnace (Wis. 3:6),
by any rule or by the lessons of experience,
are as soft as lead.
In their works they still keep faith with the world,
so that their tonsure marks them as liars before God.
They live in twos or threes, or even singly,
without a shepherd,
in their own sheepfolds and not in the Lord's.
Their law is the desire for self-gratification:
whatever enters their mind or appeals to them,
that they call holy;
what they dislike, they regard as unlawful.
The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues.
These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province,
staying as guests in different monasteries
for three or four days at a time.
Always on the move, with no stability,
they indulge their own wills
and succumb to the allurements of gluttony,
and are in every way worse than the Sarabaites.
Of the miserable conduct of all such
it is better to be silent than to speak.
Passing these over, therefore,
let us proceed, with God's help,
to lay down a rule for the strongest kind of monks, the Cenobites.
Stability, as we all probably know is at the very heart of the RB, along with obedience and conversion of life with humility close after. Today I found myself thinking of 2 possible understandings of Benedictine stability.
The obvious one, of stability of place, is self-evident and something we have already, I think discussed. Please correct me if I am wrong which I so often am.
The 2 definitions I think of are stability of the heart and stability as habit.
Stability of the heart: Maybe I've shared my thoughts on this in the past too. I dunno. Anyway, I don't think any aspect or possible definitions of Benedictine stability can be understood with the concept of stability of heart.
I wrote in my own personal Rule that "singleness of heart means to love one thing." As a vowed religious, my love is vowed to God as the primary relationship of live in my life. I think it is fair to say that every single Christian is also called to have God as the primary relationship of love in one's life. All Christians share the same primary vocation: God as primary relationship of love for each of us.
Any relationship of love will be affected by events, circumstances, desires, people etc. The trick for every Christian is to sort out those things which deplete and drain the love and those with enrich and nurture it. Fortunately the Bible offers us a guide about which is which. The 10 Commandments for instance. The many Biblical references about our property and money. Then there's the bit I'm known to quote ad nauseum for some: we are to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, slake the thirsty, care for the ill, provide for those unable to provide for themselves, preach the Good News and make disciples of all nations.
We cannot live on a spiritual high 24/7. Sometimes we just have haul up our socks and keep on keeping on with no tangible reward. This is where stability of the heart comes in. We do the right things, those with enrich and nurture the love we share with God even if we don't feel it. Stability of the heart teaches us that one day builds on another in a mysterious way, in a way our cognitive skills may not recognize to create within us an environment in which to entertain God. And we see how stability of the heart leads us to the sacred duty of hospitality for as we entertain guests, so we entertain God.
Stability of the heart requires us to say "no" a lot. We have to say no to short term or even long term pleasures and desires for no other reason than they will deplete and even damage the love relationship with God. This is also called sin. Then too there are many desirable things in this world that could nurture the love but they may not be what God means for us. To choose one of these, even though good in and of itself, if it is not God's will for us, is just the same as choosing a bad.
I know there are those who will say that God will make every thing come out right in the end, but that is an egocentric view. We are not here for God to make right what our own wills chose. We are not the ones in charge of our lives. God is. I kn ow it sounds incredibly old-fashioned to even talk of doing God's will, that each of us has our own unique vocation as the way to nurture and cherish the love each of us shares with the Lord. But old-fashioned or not, it is still true.
We all share the vocation to love the Lord, but we are not all called to manifest it in the same way. Stability of heart requires that we be faithful and careful to discern that to which God calls us.
Something that can help us with this is the idea of stability of habit. We can choose to allow certain things to become habit-forming. Habits of prayer, reading the Bible, worship, adoration of God, receiving the Eucharist, to name only the most obvious examples, as is the case with stability of heart, help us, even we don't feel it, in that same mysterious way beyond our cognitive abilities.
On a list I was once on, people spoke about how they would switch off from one breviary or prayer book to another based on their needs. I don't know about you, but my needs tend to quite often be ephemeral. Oh, there is always the need for God, food, shelter, clothing. Something we in the USA have trouble with is to distinguish between a want and a need.
Using the breviary or prayerbook example, do we want or need to swap out our books? When we make the change, why do we do so? What are we looking for?
Or how about the example of church hopping, looking for a church that will meet our needs?
The thing is, that when we hop from this to that, chop and change between one thing and another, we miss the opportunity to form the habit that will allow the Holy Spirit to change us. We think we are in charge of our spiritual formation but in truth our only responsibility in the matter is to create the environment within us whereby God can get at us.
That is what stability of habits does. We experience a continuity on the outside while the Holy Spirit delves within us doing Her work.
So what habits? Certainly regular prayers, mass, daily Scripture reading and meditation, giving of our money and our time to the church and its work and to the poor and needy.
If any here are new to the idea of daily habits, this blog has a sister list, Knitternun Meditation, which lists the daily Scripture readings, prayers, and a choice of possible meditations. It represents many flavors within Christianity as it is my belief that all Christians have much more in common than otherwise and that we should be celebrating that and cease to argue over our differences. Here is the URL: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/KnitternunMeditation
Your comments and questions are certainly most welcome. What do you think of the concepts of stability of the heart and stability of habit?