Ask almost anyone in the church today, and they will tell you that one of the most disconcerting things is the tendency of folks to “church hop”—to move rather indiscriminately from one alleged “hot spot” to another. Laity are not the only ones who do this; clergy do it also!
The Rule of Benedict, through the vow of stability, puts an end to that kind of spiritual shopping around. De Waal writes about it on pages 57-58.
Stability does not mean ignoring true spiritual hunger and seeking new ways (persons, places, and things) to satisfy the longing in our hearts. But it does mean giving up the notion that true spirituality is “over there.”
Instead, the Rule calls for a person to accept a particular community as “the way to God.” Stability calms our perfectionism that leads us to think that the “real thing” is somewhere else. Stability enables us to accept what Billy Graham has said for so long, “If there were ever a perfect church, it ceased to be so the day I joined it!”
There is a spirituality of imperfection—a spirituality that accepts the location, environment, tradition, and people around us as legitimate, even if broken, hurtful, and disappointing. In fact, the Incarnation is the ultimate proof that God didn’t have to find a “perfect world” in order to enter it.
If you are familiar with the writing of Thomas Merton, you know his early years in the Abbey of Gethsemani were a period of questioning whether or not he was in the right place, and he even took concrete steps to explore other options. But in the end, his vow of stability gave him an ability to “be” where he was—rather than live with the restlessness of wanting to be somewhere else.
In his book, The Monastic Journey (from which de Waal quotes without a page reference), Merton wrote that stability means a “total acceptance of God’s plan by which the monk realizes himself to be inserted into the mystery of Christ through this particular family and no other” (italics are Merton’s).
The spiritual journey always includes a certain amount of disillusionment, but it is a disillusionment, which if embraced, will keep God the only” primary source” in our lives—allowing everything and everyone else to be secondary. Without this, we will expect others to provide what only God can, and we will become exhausted trying to find “it.”