You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you (St Augustine)
St. Benedict of Nursia is considered the founder of the kind of monasticism we are most familiar with in Europe and the Americas. In the mid 500’s, Benedict wrote what has come to be known as the “Rule of Life”—a detailed blueprint for the ordering of life in a monastery community. The Rule is broad in scope and also incredibly detailed. Although I bridle at a lot of the more patriarchal requirements and expectations, I find myself drawn to much of what it describes about communal life.
Recently, I was looking at a certification program in spiritual direction that led me down a rabbit hole that felt right to explore. Even today, a person wishing to become a Benedictine religious must go through a year-long probationary period. At the end of that time, if the person continues to feel called to this life and is found to be able to do so he, she or they takes a binding vow. In Latin, the vow is “stabilitate sua et conversatione morum suorum et oboedientia” (stability, conversion of manners, and obedience).
In the midst of so much that is being reordered and rearranged in my life these days, it was the commitment to and promise of “stabilitate” that most intrigued me. Although the easiest translation for stabilitate is stability, I think a there’s a synonym that better reaches for the intention of this promise: steadfastness. In practical terms, for people making this Benedictine vow, it means they willingly choose to remain for the rest of their lives in the monastery community within which they take this vow.
In my previous post, I described the restlessness and mobility that has shaped life for many in my family from one generation to the next. I described the reassurance I have felt when I thought, “well, I’ll just move” as a means for trying to reinvent myself, as a way getting closer to doing and being what I thought was more true to who I am. Now, I also see how much I was guided by the impulse to “run away from,” which, wrapped in nice paper, gets described as “getting a fresh start.”
Something strange, and increasingly lovely, has happened as Sherod and I have made this little homestead ours. We don’t have a very big circle of friends here but we are so grateful for the ones we have. They are friends for life. It isn’t only that I claim this place as home, but that this land, the trees, the sunshine early in the morning, even the coyotes howling at night, have made a claim on me as well. I pay attention now in ways I never did in other places I have lived.
The day the small tornado hit Lowndesboro, Sherod and I, who were spared, took less than a minute to hightail it back home to cook lunch for the folks who were gathering to start responding to the damage in our small town. It wasn’t but a couple of hours after my dad died before the food, and flowers, and care started pouring in.
Things are also asked of me by the land because of what I see. A few Sundays ago, the morning was crisp and cool in the sunlight as I headed to church on Old Selma. This is a winding country road with very, very little traffic. It finds its way through fields and wooded sections, where the tree canopy grows across this somewhat sorry excuse for a paved road making it beautiful, no matter how sorry or full of potholes. My path constantly intersects with the journeys of wildlife.
This particular Sunday, right before I got to one of three creeks the road goes over, I saw something making its way across the road, painfully slowly. I know what comes with this time of spring into summer—right about now, love is a burnin’ thing for turtles around here and they are on the move. I’ve known that for a while. When I first moved here, I only recognized turtles after I had passed them on the road. Then, I became more aware and more careful, slowed down, went around them, and thought, ‘hurry little one.” But seeing turtle ‘road kill’ became heartbreaking. I now keep a travel pack of handy wipes in my car and I do whatever I need to make sure to help those little ahistoric creatures get off the road. Turtles carry a lot of salmonella so after I’ve carried one across the road in the direction it was traveling, I make sure to clean my hands carefully. Turtles can also bite so how I pick one up matters.
On another Sunday, a great big turtle was crossing but I realized I needed to go a bit further to park my car safely. As I got out, I saw a jeep come to somewhat of screeching halt right behind the turtle. The guy got out, lifted and carried the turtle to the other side. When I thanked him, he said he’d figured that’s why I had stopped too. I have no idea who this person is and yet now, in a way I don’t really understand, it feels like we are neighbors and kin.
I get anxious thinking about aging out here in Lowndes County, especially if I am widowed. I have landed in a very unlikely place for a liberal, feminist immigrant with family scattered across continents. The impulse to move, to leave, to start anew, is still in me. But I have claimed this place as home, and now this home makes more and more of a claim on me. I am privileged by that claim. And I am slowly, as slowly as a turtle crossing Old Selma road, making a vow of steadfastness, of Benedictine stabilitate. Restlessness little by little giving way to peace.