Three Vows

Remember how I’m reading through Esther de Waal’s Living With Contradiction?  I’ll admit I’m slow-going on it, but really fascinated. Last night I read a chapter titled “Living with Myself.” Sounds like something I need to learn from, huh? Here’s what I found most fascinating. De Waal spends a lot of time focusing on the tension and the interrelationship of three major Benedictine vows that the novice lays on the altar in his or her moment of entering the monastic community. These are the vow of stability, the vow of conversatio morum (conversion of life), and the vow of obedience.

She says it so much better than I, so I’ll let her speak:


On Stability:

“The vow of stability tells me that I must not run away from myself. It tells me to stand still, to stand firm, not in the sense of standing still in some geographical spot…but in the more fundamental sense of standing still in my own centre…[I must] tell myself that God is present in my life here, in this moment in time and in this place, and it is no good searching for some other place and time where I believe I might find him” (49).


On Conversion of Life:

“It means continual conversion of life: it means living open to change; it means being ready to face whatever may be involved in responding to Christ’s call to discipleship, saying ‘Yes’ to his words ‘Follow me’…This can be costly…Change does not come at the time that I might expect it or welcome it. It sometimes seems as though it is going to mean the breaking down of all that I had so carefully built up…As I let go of these I find instead that in the last resort there is one reality only, and one dependence only, and that is God himself” (50-51).


On Obedience:

“But how I really find God in all of this – both in the standing still and in the journeying on – must of course depend on my disposition and my openness and willingness to hear and to see and to be constantly aware of God in my life. And this is where the vow of obedience comes in. Really it is no more than listening to God…listening in all the ways in which God is trying to reach me…listening through the people whose lives touch mine; through the things I touch and handle; through moments of grace…That is ultimately what obedience is about; that I listen, and I respond, and I act on what I hear” (51-52).


On their dynamic inter-relationship:

“If stability tells me of the certainty of God, conversatio tells me of the unpredictability of God – and both have a role to play in my journey to him” (51).

“…each needs the others for true balance…If I stand still without moving on I am in danger of becoming static, of failing to grow, possibly even fossilizing.

“If I journey on without remaining still in my innermost being I am in danger of becoming a wanderer, some who is endlessly searching.

“If I do not continually stop of listen to the voice of God I am in danger of listening only to my own self, and so failing to discern what he is asking of me” (52- 53).


There is so much goodness to chew on in her words. But for now, I’m going to leave us with Ms. de Waal’s thoughts. Don’t worry, we’ll return to these ideas soon for some discussion.

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