Stability: It's an intriguing noun. Many lifetimes ago, I used it all the time to refer to critically ill patients, not as a noun but as as adverb upon naming all the physiologic parameters used to measure the cardiac and pulmonary status of critically ill patients under my care, "He's been stable for the last hour..."
But now it means something I vow to do, to be, even when I want to run away. There are times I do battle to be faithful to the promise because I'm hurt or angry or just too exhausted to care. The combat can feel so all consuming that superhuman abilities are required only to discover an infusion of supernatural grace once the battle has ended.
Stability is one of the three promises an Oblate makes upon making her oblation. Along with fidelity and obedience. But even after over ten years as an Oblate, it's stability that always grabs my heart and squeezes, sometimes painfully hard. The concept applies both to the ordinary aspects of any life but also to the extraordinary.
For Benedictines, Buddhists and mystics from all traditions, stability is pursued through rigorous attention to the present, a determined focus on a place inside where one can be, where one can stay. The Latin word is, after all, stasis which means stand. It's the staying that is the work and the reason that St. Benedict placed so much emphasis on the persistence necessary to stand rather than run away. Benedict was Roman after all and had been immersed in the military culture of standing to fight and enduring the battle with steadfastness- to death.
In Chapter fifty-eight of the Rule of Benedict, which we reread recently, Benedict admonishes the Abbott 'not to grant newcomers to the monastic life an easy entry.' The man or woman seeking the monastic life must show persistence far past the initial burst of enthusiasm. Even fifteen hundred years after the man called the Father of Monasticism wrote his rule, we are asked to pray, to seek to discern God's will for a year before we make our profession at the altar as an Oblate of St. Benedict. How different the world would look were all major decisions made this way. About marriage or about pregnancy; my husband John remarks frequently that there would be far fewer abortions if a pregnancy lasted merely a few days or weeks rather than the better part of a year.
Prior to making his vows, the novice monk is admonished by St. Benedict that "...from this day he is no longer free to leave the monastery, nor to shake from his neck the yoke of the rule which in the course of so long a period of reflection, he was free either to reject or accept."
Now the workshop where we are to toil faithfully at all these tasks is the enclosure of the monastery and stability if the community.
Of course, we Oblates are not monks. Our monastic enclosures are our marriages, children, illnesses, careers and the countless major and minor challenges of each individual life. Even after a long period like a year, however, we cannot see the struggles in front of us, the major obstacles looming like mountains as we work to endure an impossible situation. Still, after all these years, the implicit attraction and discipline of Benedict's simply worded promises shape me and my life applying to every aspect of my day.
On August 15, I pondered Mary, the Mother of God on the day we venerated her assumption into heaven. And I thought about her as she stood at the foot of the cross; was she given a vision of that celestial reunion?