The Benedictine Value of Locatedness
An old saying touts, “Location, location, location” as the key to property value. Benedictine spirituality also values location, but not the way your real estate broker might. A prominent Benedictine principle is stability, or staying put within a particular community rather than continually traveling on to somewhere else. For vowed monastics, stability is literal—a long-term commitment to a specific place and community. For most of us, though, stability can have a figurative element beyond our experience with a located Benedictine community.
Location matters, but the location isn’t always literally a place. A touchstone phrase for me over the last few years has been lived experience. Of course, all experience is lived, but the point of the redundancy is to emphasize the locatedness of your experience, the fact that your experience is situated within your real life. We can lose track of the fact that that our present experience is what’s happening now, and that we aren’t experiencing what could have been, what should have been, or what might be. Wishing isn’t experiencing—it’s something else.
New Venues for Service
A big part of my life over the last decade has been a transition over to a new life path. Ten years ago, I was an aspiring scholar-teacher in graduate school, and ultimately it didn’t work out. At first, I hoped that ordained ministry within my own religious tradition might be an option, but nothing opened up along that path. So, after a long journey, I’ve found myself starting a home-based workshop as well as participating in a training program for offering spiritual direction. The venue for the service that I see my life offering has shifted profoundly, even though I still want to have service be an element of what I do. One of the biggest challenges has been to pay attention to my real life that is happening rather than the imagined life that I think that I’m supposed to have.
For the longest time I resisted new venues for service and involvement because I wanted to prioritize involvement at church. My recollection of that stretch of time is pretty sketchy because I was so wrapped with what I was hoping would happen rather than what was happening. Perhaps some of that was good—I suppose part of what was happening was me remaining loyal to a sense of calling. However, as my life changed I experienced quite a divergence between my inner and outer lives because I was ignoring my real life—the lived experience within which I was in fact located.
From the outside, my life during that time was remarkably stable—I was literally spending a lot of my life in the same places with the same people. Internally, though, things were shifting around in some major ways for me. I’m no monastic, but I now see the Benedictine principle of stability as a lot more dynamic than I used to. Whether my life is mobile or stationary, I have to pay attention to what is really happening for me, however large or small the context. The approach of the wider culture is to optimize the external in order to enhance experience. From a spiritual perspective, though, we don’t get ideal situations for spiritual growth as much as we simply get workable opportunities. This is the core wisdom of the principle of stability—we can grow spiritually in any number of situations, so it’s better to stay put within a context where we can minimize self-deception.
Internal Locatedness and External Location
For most of us, though, we’re going to have to navigate changes in both our internal lives and our external circumstances. I’ve come to see these new circumstances as new venues for service—the core agenda of service has a new avenue for expression. I have to pay attention, though, to both the internal locatedness of my experience as well as the external location of it. A recent change of venue has brought me to some involvement with the Benedictine Center, and I’ve found some new possibilities emerging here. It’s fun to bounce around a bit in what I get to do, but by paying attention to what’s happening, I also get a little insight into what the principle of stability might mean for me.