Those were the words of the flight attendant before she paused, clearly unable to remember the city in which we were about to land. After a very long moment, she finally said “Chicago,” the connecting point in my journey yesterday to Mount St. Scholastica Monastery in Atchison, KS.
The peripatetic work of a flight attendant probably doesn’t lend itself to readily knowing where you are, so I can understand her hesitation. Nevertheless her pause struck me, and all the more so because of the book I happened to have in my hand as she spoke. I was reading about a community of U.S. Benedictine monks, how they planted themselves in an unlikely spot over a century ago, and stayed. And stayed. And stayed. And they are still there.
Stability is one of the uniquely Benedictine vows. It is the opposite of a peripatetic life, and in fact St. Benedict warns us in his Rule about “gyrovagues,” those wandering monks who never settle down, never committing themselves to a Rule and an Abbot – or even a place.
We Benedictines vow our stability to a community, a community situated in a specific locale. We plant ourselves, and we stay put. Being rooted for a lifetime gives us a strong sense of place, of habitas. We know where we are, and who we are.
Stability for a lifetime within a single community offers the monastic a setting in which to pursue that other uniquely Benedictine profession promise: conversion of life, or heart. Yet it also has the effect of ‘grounding’ us in a literal way. We land in a locale, and we stay put. We come to know intimately the rhythms of not only the liturgical seasons, but of the seasons of nature, of the world God created. Over the years, we come to know at close range the ground on which we walk, on which we live. We know where we are.
The meeting I am attending in Kansas is a conference for Benedictine Sisters ages 55 and under from all across North America. We will converge on Atchison from Oregon, New Jersey, North Dakota, Virginia, Colorado, and many other states. For each of us, our true home is in God, and God is present everywhere. But as Benedictines, our habitas is in a particular community in a particular place. When our conference concludes, we will each return to the community, and to the place, to which God has called us, and we will know where we have landed.