We live in the most deracinated time and place in all of human history.
This thought came to me as I drove home from St. Andrew Abbey on Sunday afternoon following my monthly meeting with Fr. Bede, Br. Simon and my fellow Benedictine oblates. We had spent our time together discussing the importance of the Benedictine virtue of stabilitas, stability, as it applies to those who both live inside as well as outside the abbey walls, and it occurred to me that, along with silence, this may be the most difficult of ideals to which we can strive.
The Rule of St. Benedict speaks of stability in several contexts, but the focus on stability in relation to place is an essential component of the life of a monk. Thus, the foundation of a monastery – whether in Germany in the 7th century or Cleveland in the 20th – was a statement of commitment made by the monks to a specific place and the people living in that place. For the Benedictines, the concept of deracination or uprootedness was and is anathema.
As with so many of their attributes – from their black hooded habit to their sanctification of the day through prayer and work (ora et labora) – this focus on stability flies in the face of a world caught up in constant movement and the lack of patience, humility, and inner peace that accompany it. Yet this same world is longing for something to give it meaning as it flits from one temporary fix to another, never truly satisfied or fulfilled.
The advice of St. Benedict to this fallen and confused world is to, as the first line of the Rule states, “Listen…and incline the ear to thy heart.” Turn off the television, put the phone down, walk away from the computer, and actually listen. Thus, stability of the heart is literally at the core of the stability of place. And even though stability of place is so important to St. Benedict that even oblates commit not to the order but to a particular monastery, it is the heart that gives meaning to the place.
We all know this instinctively, and it comes out in a phrase like “home is where the heart is.” But we must each ask ourselves to what home does the heart belong? And as we ponder the events of the Advent and Christmas seasons the answer can come into focus if we look closely at both the Nativity story itself and how we respond to it.
There is a beautiful moment in The Little Prince when the narrator’s heart is filled with love for the little prince, and he sees this as a great gift comparable to those he received as a boy at Christmas:
“It was good for the heart, like a present. When I was a little boy, the lights of the Christmas tree, the music of the Midnight Mass, the tenderness of smiling faces, used to make up, so, the radiance of the gifts I received.”
The little prince taught him this lesson, but this message is derived from the wisdom of the fox, the Christ-figure of the story. The words of the fox made the little prince realize just how important was the rose that he left behind on his home planet:
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye…It is the time you have wasted for your rose that makes your rose so important…You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed. You are responsible for your rose.”
What better explanation of stability of the heart could there be? And what a perfect time of year, when the refrain “I’ll be home for Christmas” rings daily in our ears, for us to ponder the gifts of home, stability, and love provided by a Family who were far from home in a very precarious situation, and yet they listened, they inclined their ears to their hearts and gave the ultimate example of what it means to see rightly and to love.