Back when we were in graduate school umpteen million years ago, Brad entrusted me with his favorite plant, a lush fichus tree named Herman (in honor of Herman Melville), before he left town for a while.
I moved Herm into my house, positioned him in a sunny spot next to the sliding glass doors and then watched as he began to drop leaves at an alarming rate. I moved him to a South-facing window. More leaves littered the carpet. I watered Herman, fed him plant food, repositioned him yet again in a less chilly spot. Still he dropped leaves.
A week after Brad left, I called to report that I’d killed Herman in a record-setting seven days flat.
Turns out, fichus trees crave stability. Brad had left Herm next to the same sunny window for years, without sliding his pot so much as an inch. Then we had tossed the plant into the backseat of my Pontiac Grand Am and carted him to my house, where I’d moved him from spot to spot in a desperate attempt to quell the leaf-shedding.
There’s a Benedictine lesson to be learned from Herman the fichus, a lesson about stability.
When they first join the order, the Benedictines take a vow of stability. As Jane Tomaine explains in St. Benedict’s Toobox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Benedictine Living, “Stability is saying ‘Yes’ to God’s will for me in the place where I believe God has placed me and with the task I believe God has given me to do.”
Our culture promotes the opposite of stability. Over time, we are conditioned to think that it’s okay to drop one thing and move onto the next. Marriage grown stale? Divorce. Bored on the job? Quit. Shoes scuffed? Buy a new pair. Acquaintance irritate us on Facebook? Unfriend. We abandon with ease, enticed by the fresh and new.
This relentless pursuit of the perfect place, the perfect situation, the perfect person, leads to the Herman phenomenon. Instead of finding contentment and peace, our searching results in greater dissatisfaction. We feel restless, uprooted and displaced. We wither rather than thrive.
The solution, Benedict tell us, is that we should aim for stability.
“The vow of Stability affirms sameness, a willingness to attend to the present moment, to the reality of this place, these people, as God’s gift to me and the setting where I live out my discipleship,” writes Elizabeth Canham. “We are discouraged from fantasizing some ideal situation in which we will finally be able to pray and live as we should.”
I get that inclination toward fantasy. I often find myself imagining a serene retreat at a monastery, in which I can relish the silence, the peace and the time and space to pray without interruption and distraction. But the reality is that I have a job, two young kids and a household to maintain. If I wait to find God in the ideal, I miss him in the here and now.
Stability means we hang on in the situation we are in and with the people who are there with us. As we stay put, as we quell the inclination to flee, we find God’s presence.
As it turned out, much the same was true for Herm the fichus. I finally stopped moving him around the house and let him simply be, and after a few weeks passed, I began to notice tiny buds sprouting on bare branches. Leaf by delicate leaf, Herm began to thrive, unfurling and blossoming into a lush, verdant canopy. In his stillness, he grew strong once again.
What’s your reaction to this notion of stability? Have you ever been grateful that you stayed the course? [I want to note here, too, that I am in no way advocating staying in an abusive or unhealthy relationship. I’m talking about situations that are uncomfortable, not destructive.]
I’ve recently revisited a series I wrote three years ago called Blogging Benedict, and I’ve decided to run some of these posts on Fridays through Lent. They are based on the book by Jane Tomaine called St. Benedict’s Toolbox: The Nuts and Bolts of Everyday Living, which I am re-reading this Lent.