Wednesday, May 9, 2012
But tonight I am back at the house before eight, my e-mails are caught up, tomorrow's lunch is packed, and my stomach is full so let's see if I can't write something.
About two and a half weeks ago I went out with some friends to a lecture on Benedictine Spirituality (it was a lot more fun than that makes it sound.) The Benedictine order has a tri-fold vow that they make, which is slightly different from the typical religious vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. Benedictines vow obedience, conversion of life, and stability and it was the vow of stability that made up a good portion of the talk. Considering that the audience was primarily young adults there is a certain irony in that.
Stability in the Benedictine order means that the monk makes a choice to remain with his monastery for the rest of his life. He cannot even go to visit another monastery without permission from his abbot, and he can never move out without breaking his vow. Even to work outside the monastery requires special permission. Perhaps the reason why this concept stuck so strongly with me is because it is the complete antithesis of our modern culture, especially among my generation. In America things are made to wear out. When it does wear out you throw it away and buy a new one. We try different jobs or college majors looking for the perfect fit, by which we usually mean something that will never get old or be boring or require us to get up early on a monday morning. If something doesn't stay as fun and fresh as it looked in the brochure we discard it and try something else. We take up one relationship after another, looking for one that will stay interesting and spontaneous. When our own humanity interferes with that fantasy we fight, break up, and go out looking again. We live in an unstable and disposable culture, and against that background the stability of the Benedictines stands in sharp, formidable contrast, like a mountain.
A few days after this talk a close friend of mine pointed out that my life is almost exactly the opposite of the Benedictine vow. Since I left home at 17 I have lived in Texas, New York, Korea, Kansas, Iraq, Afghanistan, North Carolina and Washington State. The longest I have stayed in one place was two and a half years in North Carolina. The second longest was fifteen months in Afghanistan. Interspersed with that has been a string of short stops at various places for schools and a short trip to Thailand. Truthfully, there has been very little stability in my adult life. It's odd, however, that it took someone else looking at me from the outside and pointing it out before I saw that. It puts into context my growing desire to put down roots somewhere and stop moving every couple of years. My books are getting harder and harder to lug around.
That lack of stability, however, was not apparent to me because in reality it is somewhat superficial. I don't really define myself in terms of place, but in terms of character and relationship. My priority for most of that time was not my job or the unit or my career. Instead I was focused on developing my character. I had a very clear idea of the sort of person I wanted to become and that provided a context for everything that happened outside me. Every change, or move, or event was simply one more thing shaping me, but it was the shaping that I was interested in, not the things themselves.
As I got older I did not become any less focused on that interior life, but it took on a new dimension. It became a relationship, rather than a solitary pursuit of an ideal. I began to see how God was the one shaping me, or to put it another way, calling me, and began to recognize His immediacy and His stability. At the same time I was also recapturing, or maybe developing for the first time, a real, solid appreciation for my family. I realized that, no matter how long I was in the Army it was not a permanent thing. It is designed not to be permanent. It is the kind of job that you can do only for a certain portion of your life. Even within that time you change units and duty stations every few years. But God and Family, they do not change. God is the constant upon which all true constancy rests. He has been with me, leading and guiding, calling and shaping, every moment since I was formed in the womb. And the tool that He used to form and shape me was my family. My parents will always be my parents, in this world and in the next. My siblings likewise, and my cousins and aunts and uncles and grandparents, etc. The relationships exist outside of the narrow confines of time. That is what is important, that is what is real and stable. That is what has provided the constancy in my crazy life, even when I was too dumb to see it.
The Benedictine vow of stability is not a norm but a witness. In voluntarily tying themselves to a single geographic location for their entire lives they bear witness to the rest of us that we are meant to do the same, spiritually. We are meant to choose freely to belong to something (say rather Someone) that will last. Love, then, is our bedrock. Goodness, truth and beauty are footprints of that love, but more than the footprint is offered us. We are told that we may learn to possess that very Love Himself, for He longs to give Himself too us. That is our permanence, our stabilty, our constant endurance. All else is but a ripple.