Staying Put

Mountains

Some monks take a vow of stability—to stay put—along with vows of chastity and poverty. From that standpoint, not moving must be a sort of privation, the curbing of an appetite. It would free up time spent planning, packing, unpacking, and arranging and it would challenge the desire for wanderlust and novelty. It would even change the dynamics of contentment.

Monastic vows vary between different orders, but many include stability and poverty. The binding of these two is an interesting combination, because they seem somewhat at odds. Someone who is “on the move” tends to have a limited amount of stuff. By contrast, someone who never moves can accumulate goods.

A monk must battle against a quest for novelty by staying in one place. He must also battle against the accumulation of material goods. He is in the unusual position of being able to maintain a storehouse and yet is charged with keeping it empty.

Perhaps that is the wisdom of the vows—to have space to be filled and to leave it open for God to fill, not with material things but with spiritual. To be free from distraction. To be intentionally blank. To be free from the burden of movement and the burden of ownership.

“By making a vow of stability the monk renounces the vain hope of wandering off to find a ‘perfect monastery.’ This implies a deep act of faith: the recognition that it does not much matter where we are or whom we live with, provided we can devote ourselves to prayer, enjoy a certain amount of silence, poverty, and solitude, work with our hands, read and study the things of God, and above all love one another as Christ has loved us.”

Thomas Merton+, The Sign of Jonas, p. 10

Stability is the opposite of flitting, and growth comes through stability. Oak trees are bigger than tumbleweeds. Physical stability is not possible for all of us, but spiritual stability is. Think about what it means to be a Christian. It means to worship the same God all of our lives. It means to turn to the Bible as his written revelation. A Christian is someone who spends the rest of his life reading the same book over and over and over again.

Novelty is not virtue, especially in matters of religion. We are the clay, God is the potter. The clay has to stay in the mold until it hardens. God’s command to the Israelites to keep the Sabbath, to sit still and trust God for a day, is a command against flitting. It is a counter to novelty.

The Daily Offices of the church—Morning and Evening Prayer—have very little variety within them. The Bible Lessons change and the Collect of the Day changes, but not much else. For someone new to them, they start with novelty, but over time, the novelty erodes. We are left with a stable method of daily approaching God, daily confessing our sins, daily offering our petitions and thanksgivings. In this we can practice stability, even if we are on the move physically.

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Filed under Asceticism, Balance, Priorities, Simplicity, Stability

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