I have a great appreciation for the values that frame monastic life — values such as listening, community, hospitality, simplicity, prayer and praise. I try continually to incorporate them into my work and family life. One monastic value, though, has proved more difficult to apply — that of stability.
If you look up the definition of stability, the words steadiness, constancy, permanency and solidity will appear. In a monastic context, stability connotes something particular. It means committing to remain in the same monastery for life. In fact, stability is one of the three vows all Benedictine monks and sisters take, alongside obedience and the commitment to seek God through a continuous “conversion of life.”
As someone who has lived in nine different cities across two continents, mobility rather than stability characterizes my life and career. But is it possible to move around and still tap into a sense of rootedness that stability implies?
I see benefits in both staying put and moving around. My mother raised her children in the same house in Bayonne, New Jersey that she was raised in. She grew up with our neighbors, had children when they were having children, and grew older alongside them. They all were an integral part of the neighborhood.
When my mother and my father retired, they moved to the Dallas area to live near my older brother. They stayed there — in the same house — for the next 21 years.
Something I admire greatly about the small town in Italy where I frequently stay is the sense of caring residents have for one another. It derives in large part from the fact that people remain in the town for generations, often passing on the same home from one generation to the next. They are invested in each other and the community
In a thoughtful blog post this past week on the theme of “Constancy Vs Change,” writer and educator Marv Hoffman calls stability and mobility “two polarities that will always exist in tension with one another.” Marv and his wife, novelist Rosellen Brown (who was my graduate school adviser), lived in six cities before putting down stakes in Chicago for the past 28 years.
“Drilling deep where your feet are planted or going wide across a broad area can both lead to gold,” Marv concludes. I agree, but would add something further.
Even if we move around a lot, we can still experience a sense of stability. We can become rooted wherever we land, even if our sojourn is brief. Though I live only part-time in Italy, I like to think a part of me is planted there in the small town of Guardiagrele where I stay, and that I add to the soul of my Italian community just as much as it leaves its imprint on me.
An Italian friend recently paid me a great compliment, observing that I know more people in our small town than he does, even though he lives there fulltime.
Reflecting on stability in her book Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister notes, “Where I am is where God is.” In that sense, we maintain the equilibrium of stability no matter how times we move, no matter how many places we have lived. We can uncover the sacred wherever we are. Stability flows, Sister Joan points out, from “steady, steady attention to everything,” whether it be prayer, work, service or intellectual discipline.
Each place I’ve lived for any period of time — Bayonne, NJ, New York City, Washington, D.C. Paris, London, Siena, Italy, Guardiagrele, Italy, Chicago, and Normal, IL — have all contributed a panel to the tapestry of my life. I hope, too, that I have left an echo of my life in every place I’ve been.
How many places have you called home?
How have those places changed you?
What have you left behind?
How have you experienced the benefits of what Marv Hoffman calls “the familiarity of constancy and the newness of change?”
To read Marv Hoffman’s blog on “Constancy Vs Change,” please visit http://marvhoffman.com/constancy-vs-change/