Lesson 14: Stability

A family packs the moving truckIf my first attraction to the Benedictine Rule was its hospitality, my second was its stability. A pastor easily felt the impact of the mobile technology at first offered and then demanded. Children leaving town for college, exciting vocations, and big time salaries brought new opportunities. However, before long, opportunity became demand as there were really no other options. Families were broken, congregations were broken, and communities were broken as people moved from place to place, job to job, person to person.

A new way of life developed which prospered industry and the academy but damaged human relationships, and with it, moral values. If a person did not perform up to expectations, they were fired. If a better job came along, a person moved on.

The darkest side of this new lifestyle is captured in the word “abandonment.” People came to think abandoning an obligation that hindered your advancement was a courageous and freeing virtue. Pastors’ offices were filled with wives abandoned by their husbands when an afflicted child was born.

Sister Chittister attributes this dark side to the loss of stability that, she claims, provides centeredness, commitment, and relationship. Stability enables a person to settle in long enough to learn about life and self. The perseverance and persistence needed to see things through to the end teach us what it is to be human in this challenging world.

Chittister spoke of commitment as an opportunity to grow as we dedicate ourselves to solving the problems facing us as individuals and communities. It soon becomes evident that the real problems call for long-term steadfastness. Indeed, the most troublesome moral problems call for devotedness beyond our own lifetimes.

That is why Chittister maintains that stability leads to relationships. We need others, including God, if we are to find our true selves and build creative satisfying communities. She spoke of stability leading to friendship that could be defined as trusting others well enough to speak truth with them. In other words, personal relationships are built on more than the chemistry of emotional intimacy.

Remember, Sister thinks life is all about relationships. Without the long-term relationships resulting from stability we go through life uprooted, unknown, and unattached. Without them we remain shallow self-centered adolescents whining for what we think will make us happy. Hmmm!

Chittister used the Cross found throughout the monastery as the chief symbol of stability. I found her words a little bit too shallow here. She wrote, “The cross is… the one hope we have that our own lives can move through difficulty to triumph…The cross is the one proof of human possibility. The cross says very clearly that things will work out if we work them out and that whatever is, is important to our lifetime’s fulfillment. The cross says we can rise if we can only endure.”

I find the Cross to be far more realistic. Jesus who endured in the will of God screams from the depths of his soul, “Why did you abandon me, Father?” I think the answer to his cry is not that things will wok out if we work them out or that we must accept the way things are. I hear that we need God to overcome the tremendous evil raging around us, that this demands our own transformation if we are to participate in this project, and that God promises never to abandon us in this work of love.

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  1. Derek Halverson says:

    I found the comments from last week quite interesting. What they reminded me is that the elders of today are not a reincarnation of the ‘G.I. generation” but are the boomers, the “me” generation, just with perhaps a few grey hairs. “Wow vows” and new age governance schemes are no longer exclusive to liberal college campuses.

    Along with that the theme of abandonment above resonated with me. Chittister seems to be using the word stability in the sense of people staying in the same location. However, certainly within urban settings, that sort of stability is no longer, if it ever was, a guarantee of relationships. Increasingly I’m hearing of estrangement among family members despite living near each other, especially in the fallout of this election cycle (which is horrifying as a father, at least mine are still young). With some frequency I’ll see things on social media or the web about the value of cutting people that bring you down out of your life. What I don’t hear so often these days compared to older books is about “fair weather friends.” I fear that’s because it’s now something of the default, and the exception is rare and to be cherished.

    I do think this is damaging not just to ones psyche in general, but also to one’s spiritual life. Particularly in the balance of things of this world and things of the spirit. I find I cannot shake the haunting feeling that my professional success doesn’t just affect what car I drive, but that many of my relationships, perhaps even my marriage, hinge on it. Certainly that connection has been true for many other cases of Holy matrimony falling apart. It is scary and hard to be generous with that fear and a feeling you may have no one to fall back on, which is also a problem for the spirit.

    Establishing meaningful relationships and stability would be a powerful thing if a Christian community could provide it, but I don’t think that’s so easy or natural these days.

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