A vow of stability

September 21, 2021

This week during a conversation I heard about the vows that monks take as they’re entering into the monastery. 

A vow of chastity. A vow of obedience. A vow of poverty.

There’s a fourth vow that I don’t think is as widely known about: a vow of stability. 

Something struck me about the vow of stability and hurdled me into a blackhole of googling to learn more. 

Thomas Merton, an American trappist monk and great theologian, wrote, “By making a vow of stability the monk renounces the vain hope of wandering off to find a ‘perfect monastery.’ This implies a deep act of faith: the recognition that it does not much matter where we are or whom we live with. …All monasteries are more or less ordinary.… Its ordinariness is one of its greatest blessings.”

In its simplest terms: this vow means that a monk is staying put. That he isn’t going to another monastery unless he is sent there by a superior. 

Paul Wilks in his book, Beyond the Walls: Monastic Wisdom for Everyday Life,

writes of the vow, “It was a commitment to trust in God’s goodness – that he was indeed there, in that very place; and that holiness, happiness, and human fulfilment were to be found, not tomorrow or over the hill, but here – today.”

I’m obviously not joining a monastery but something about the vow of stability draws me in. I couldn’t stop thinking about this idea of stability and what it means for me and my life. 

It’s so easy to be somewhere else – to escape the present moment for something that seems more glamorous or cool. It’s far too easy to tune out the here and now by way of our phones. One click and we are somewhere else digesting someone else’s life.

The vow of stability is a commitment to something which is maddeningly simple yet impossibly hard in today’s culture: a commitment to being exactly where your feet are.

Be where your feet are – even when it’s hard.

Be where your feet are – even when you wish it could be different.

Be where your feet are – even when hope feels bleak.

Be where your feet are – content in the mundane and the ordinary. 

The mundane and the ordinary – I think that’s where the beauty of real life hides out in plain sight. Social media would have us believe that our lives must be pulsing and buzzing with updates at all times but the rhythms of everyday life are rarely packed with pomp and circumstance. 

A vow of stability. A recommissioning to the work of right here, right now. 

What would that look like for me? For you? For all of us? 

How could we get closer to that in a post- COVID world?

We don’t know the first step towards this great and holy kind of stability but we want to start where we typically start all things with – with prayer 

As you mull over the idea of stability, this is our prayer for you, for me, for us. 

Dear God, sometimes a commitment to everyday life is so hard. we want excitement. We want momentum. And yet you call us to embrace the ordinary, even when we don’t want to. Show us how to find you in the ordinary. Help us to fall in love with the rhythms of everyday life. Teach us to uncover miracles within the mundane. We know you’re already at work – give us eyes to see you working.

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” - Psalm 46:10
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