Faster phone Wi-Fi, more memory, new car features, easier travel, fast food, bigger televisions. We live in an age driven by dissatisfaction. Before one product flies off the shelves, the next model is underway in a factory. The supply of bigger and better products feeds the thirst of demand, and the greed of demand feeds the supply machine with reasons to keep production rates soaring. Most of our everyday products are disposable and will be replaced within a few years, if not less. We crave the new. We crave comfort. We do not like the state of dissatisfaction, but somehow find it continually looming over us. I see this in my own life. I’m always looking for something to keep me pacified, or noticing that my possessions are losing their ability to provide me with pleasure. Our human hearts are restless.
Another way we see dissatisfaction and restlessness in our lives is in our desire to flee. We are supposedly creatures of “fight or flight,” but fleeing seems the more popular choice when difficulty arises. Flight is the easier way out. Why stand your ground and exert energy fighting for peaceful resolve when you can simply run? Isn’t that what our culture teaches us? If something is difficult or dissatisfying, you should discard it, leave it, and turn to something better, more suitable for you.
I love the the Rule of St. Benedict because it is so counter-cultural. One of the pillars upon which the Rule stands is stability. In the first chapter, Benedict describes several different kinds of monks. He praises cenobites and hermits for their faithfulness, then goes on to castigate “sarabaites” and “gyrovagues.” Sarabaites are unfaithful. They do not have a rule of life which guides them. Their character is “soft as lead” and their “law is what they like to do, whatever strikes their fancy.” Gyrovagues are wanderers. They “spend their entire lives drifting from region to region…Always on the move, they never settle down, and are slaves to their own wills and gross appetites.” Of course, one purpose of Benedict’s Rule is to create stability in the life of a monk. By following a rule of life, learning to live with fellow sinful persons, working diligently, worshiping, and obediently submitting to superiors, the monk is formed into a person of faithfulness. Remaining faithful to one monastery, one community, one place, will, in turn, produce a faithful stability in the monk’s heart. Esther de Waal, in, Seeking God: The Way of St Benedict, comments, “The stability of space and of relationships are all the means towards the establishment of stability of the heart. They are only reflections of inner stability, of an internal unity and coherence.” By remaining faithful to where we are, what we have, and with who we live, we learn the practice of stability. When difficulties arise, instead of fleeing, we “fight,” we remain faithful and steadfast to those around us and decidedly keep our roots planted deep. Stability flows out of faithfulness, and to practice faithfulness is to reflect the image of God in which we are made.
Living in a small, rural community like Nashotah House, difficulties often arise. To be honest, spending five long days a week with other imperfect humans — going to classes, worship services, meetings, work crew, meals — can sometimes be a struggle. Flight is sometimes a temptation. Some days, you want to stay at home on the couch, watching Office reruns and eating peanut butter cups. Some days, you want to pack your bags and leave and find a place where you can have more “me time” and not deal with so much interpersonal interaction or other people’s drama. When there is confusion, hurt, loss, frustration, or division in the community, the tempt to flee from it all is strong. It is precisely during these times we most need to turn to the Lord and ask for strength, for stability. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, in his book, The Wisdom of Stability, says, “Stability does not depend on our ability to shore up crumbling foundations in the midst of change and confusion. Rather, it rests on the character of One who promises to love us where we are. Faith is a response to that love, rooting us in the reality of a God who is faithful.”
In an age where we are constantly offered the newest, the better, the easier replacement, we must guard our hearts against instability. Temptation to flee from one thing to the next, be it product or place, is always before us, but stability, when lived out faithfully, will shape our hearts counter-culturally and turn our eyes from the present situation to the One who sits stably on the right hand of the throne of God.