Standing in Place

There is a lot weighing on my heart this week, a conflict with a dear friend continues, one of my fellow oblates is in the end stages of pancreatic cancer, and my mother-in-law’s Alzheimer’s is slowly worsening. I feel so very tender.

I received a couple of wonderful emails from readers who shared with me how much it meant to them that I wrote my post last week about feeling all too human and needing to let what I wrote be enough.  I was touched by reflecting on the gift we offer each other in our shared vulnerability and permission to be exactly where we are.

Being present to these struggles has me thinking of the Benedictine vows, especially the vow of stability. My understanding of stability has shifted over the last few years. When I lived in California and discovered Benedictine spirituality, I longed then to make a commitment as an oblate to a particular community. We knew we were in a transitional place however, and so I waited until we were settled in Seattle so I could make a more permanent commitment and live fully into the vow of stability.

Commitment to a particular place and community are still essential elements of stability for me, but I also see the deeper invitation to love the place where you find yourself. Stability, for me, means standing in place even when life inevitably gets sticky or embarrassing or deeply painful. I don’t mean the kind of martyr complex or false hope that keeps a woman standing by her abuser. I mean the kind of running that keeps me from ever standing still in the landscape of tenderness and vulnerability.

In a culture of mobility and restlessness, I can so easily pick up and move when things get uncomfortable or brighter horizons beckon. This happens with relationships as well as places. Even in the absence of the option to physically move, there are many ways for me to feed my desire for distraction, whether it is television or internet or other entertainment. Loving the place where I find myself might mean the physical location, but for me also refers to the emotional place whether grief, rawness, or anger.   It is the foundation for relationship, saying I will continue to be here and work through this with you.

Stability is also best understood in context of all three vows Benedictine monks take: stability, obedience, and conversion. Obedience is really about deep listening. The root of the word comes from the Latin audire, meaning “to hear.” Obedience means listening to the world around me for the voice of God speaking through all things and people, at all times, even conflict and struggle, perhaps especially so.

I understand conversion as a commitment to allow myself to continue to be surprised by God, to let God out of the small boxes I construct, and to be open to the lifelong process of transformation. I commit to being stretched wide open even when I want to curl up and hide.

These three vows are woven together and inform each other. Stability is really only meaningful if I commit myself to both listen deeply to the place I am and allow myself to be changed by it. In being faithful to the place of struggle how might I embrace new possibilities and allow God’s grace to expand my vision?

Stability teaches me that the most ordinary commitments in life are precious. It means having patience in dark days. I find myself now in a crucible of sorts.  There is so much about my life I love deeply, but I admit I do not love this particular place.  I am trying to at least be present to it, to discover the hidden ways of the holy beating within it.

Do you love the place you find yourself? Will you be faithful to whatever terrible, beautiful things are emerging right now?

-Christine Valters Paintner

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