Many of the trees near the Gooseberry River at Gooseberry Falls State Park are not rooted in soil. In fact, they seem to be rooted in stone: a vulnerable stability. One of the promises we make as Benedictines is “stability.” When taken literally, this could just mean staying put in one location, or remaining in the Monastery for the rest of one’s life. But its spiritual meaning goes much deeper.
Stability is the willingness to continue with a particular monastic community, in a particular place, even as both the nature of the place and the membership of the community shifts. Stability is an act of the will, and a spiritual grace given by God.
At my Monastery, we experienced the death of 8 sisters in the past year. Some of them were well known to people in our College or other ministries while others served more quietly as schoolteachers or cooks. As each of them passes on, the shape of our community changes. The voices that we hear at the Chapter meetings, the ideas and perspectives are different.
In the same year, several women knocked on our door to become affiliates (the first stage of entering the community). We are blessed with a novice and four Sisters who have made their first monastic profession. They are the new voices and new ideas we hear at our Chapter meetings.
The deeply rooted trees along the Gooseberry do not stand alone; their roots are intertwined and their trunks provide strength for each other. In the same way, monastic stability is not an individual choice, but one which occurs within and through the community. Although we make a promise of stability on a particular day and at a particular time, it is a promise that we have to grow into.
Like the trees along the Gooseberry River, we send out roots in all directions and cling fast to the supports that give us life. Each Sister is shaped by the events and forces that occur in her particular monastic life; the stability of one will differ from that of the others. Yet, in the end, it will be impossible to differentiate them: all of those individual stabilities have been woven into a single web that holds the community together and, as St Benedict wrote, “brings us altogether to everlasting life.”
Sister Edith Bogue is a Benedictine Sister of St. Scholastica Monastery in Duluth, Minnesota, where she directs the Oblate Program. A sociologist by profession, she teaches at the college sponsored by the Monastery, The College of St. Scholastica. Photography is one of her many interests, as is her blog, Monastic Musings Too, which has attracted readers all over the world.”