As I approach ordination (on 29th June) I have been thinking again about stability. Now, as a Benedictine oblate, you might think that I have spent a lot of time reflecting on this subject. Stability is, after all, one of the Benedictine vows. As an oblate I am not ‘avowed’ but, I do live under a rule of life built around the Benedictine vows to stability, conversion of life and obedience.
So what might stability look like as I enter into full time ordained ministry and, perhaps more importantly, how much stability might I need?
I think that stability can be described by three P’s (marketing must be a really clever discipline because it manages to describe itself using 6 p’s – it used to be 4 but then its leading advocates got bored and created two more. Marketing’s 6 p’s are product, promotion, price, packaging, people, place).
Stability’s 3 p’s stand for people, practice and place.
For me as a married man the people who contribute most to my stability are my family, my religious community. Practices refer to shared prayer time through morning and evening offices, individual prayer time, spent in meditation, alongside other socio-spiritual activities such as family and communal meals. Place refers to commitment to the place where I am called on to minister, the parish (if I was a clever ecclesial marketing type I would now add another P to my list). I think that there is a reciprocity inherent to stability, as others contribute to my stability, I in turn help foster the conditions for their stability.
Okay, so far, so good, but, how much stability to I need? I think that three thinkers provide me with some form of concrete answer: the writer of Proverbs, Winnie the Pooh and, C.S. Lewis – all heroes of mine.
Proverbs 25, 16 says ‘if you find honey (which I am reading as a metaphor for honey) eat just enough – too much of it will make you vomit’ (Yuk).
Winnie the Pooh who was famous for his overindulgence said, ‘when having a smackerel of something with a friend (thereby sharing a common practice in community) don’t eat so much that you get stuck in the doorway trying to get out.’
C.S. Lewis, reflecting on John 14, wrote ‘the settled happiness and security which we all desire, God withholds from us by the very nature of the world: but joy, pleasure, and merriment, He has scattered broadcast. We are never safe, but we have plenty of fun and some ecstasy. It is hard not to see why. The security we crave would teach us to rest our hearts in this world and oppose an obstacle to our return to God……..our Father refreshes us on the journey with some pleasant inns, but will not encourage us to mistake them for home.’
Lewis is correct too much stability will keep us from looking to God; why bother if everything seems just fine and dandy as it is? Winnie the Pooh and the writer of Proverbs are also right, too much of anything, especially honey (a frequent biblical metaphor) will cause us to become sick and / or bloated. Too much stability will stifle both us and others. But as every Benedictine, alongside our hero Winnie knows, true conversion of life is impossible without enough stability. We do need mutual support from other people, in a given place, animated by shared practices.
How do you make sure you get just enough, but not too much stability?