Every now and then, I dream of writing another book. It is not that I have written one, mind you. It’s simply that a general dream of writing attaches itself to another possibility.
Among the books I have actually begun to commit to writing is a reflection on the “Rule of St. Benedict” and how it’s ancient wisdom can speak to the Church today. So much is there for the benefit of clergy, individual congregants, and entire congregations. In a world which is every bit as tumultuous and threatening as Benedict’s 5th Century, the security and stability of a “cloister” (i.e., an enclosure or garden) would seem to be a necessity as much now as ever.
Benedict writes, for example, in chapter 1 or his Rule, about there being “Four Kinds of Monastics.” So doing, I overhear his writing about four kinds of church members:
- There is the (very rare and exceptional) “anchorite” who has outgrown the need for community in his/her spiritual growth;
- There is the “sarabite” who walks with one foot on the Church rolls… and one foot in the world—making claims on the Church when it suits them or meets their needs;
- There is the “gyrovague” who hops from setting to setting in pursuit of a community in their own image;
- And, then, there are the “cenebites” who yoke themselves to one community and authority over time. (These are the “strong kind” for whom Benedict intends his Rule.
Here, it might be important to reflect upon an important word and concept in Benedictine thought and practice. While it will not make its formal entrance into the Rule until the end of Chapter 5, the concept of “stability” is very much in mind and heart in this chapter and in the inferred elevation of the “cenobite” over the other two kinds of monks we’ve discussed. Stability: the “commitment to faithfulness where we are.” (Canham, Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, p. 35)
For all the many things stability is, it is most certainly the affirmation that living in community is a “means of Grace.” Among other things, it’s the recognition that far from being someone I need to get away from, my neighbor is a mirror through whom and with whom I can and do discover myself – and, paradoxically, an “image of God.” Stability is a vow to attach myself to that lens, that mirror (not to mention the other gifts of community). Stability is not something monks are when they come to the monastery. Stability is something they do. It is the commitment by which they anchor themselves to, root themselves in, stand in solidarity with a given community – believing that Grace can use that commitment to a given time and place and relationships in its ongoing work of conversion.
In an issue entitled, “Community & Spiritual Companionship as a Means of Grace,” we are exploring this notion further via this week’s publication of Ruminations, a free quarterly/seasonal resource.
Among the gifts of Pentecost, you see, is loving, Spirit-filled community – a reversal of all the babel and confusion which divides.