Scott Benhase: Stability seeks God in the ordinary

We can never “fix” our organizations. We can work on ourselves by practicing the virtue of stability.

The first of three posts on the Benedictine promises of Stability, Obedience, and Conversion of Life. I hope we can see how the Benedictine promises can inform and shape our congregational leadership in healthy and vital ways.

John Keble referred to Benedictine stability as “the trivial round, the common task.” It is in trivial and common things that opportunity exists “to bring us daily nearer God.” Yet our culture engenders in us an ethos that seeks the non-trivial and the uncommon. It suggests that if we were just somewhere or someone else we would be closer to God. It promises that if our spouses, friends, parishioners or co-workers were just different – that is, a little nicer and more like us -- then our lives would be much better. This cultural ethos serves as our very own version of C.S. Lewis’s Uncle Screwtape.

The truth is we find God’s presence more deeply when we make a conscious, intentional decision not to run away from ourselves, those closest to us, and the “givens” of our lives, but to seek God in those places and people. Such is the virtue of stability. Parker Palmer has written: “Community is that place where the person you least want to live with always lives . . . And when that person moves away, someone else arrives immediately to take his or her place.” Palmer is right. There will always be people in our lives who seem to make it their life’s ambition to make our lives difficult. The sooner we accept that truth, the sooner we will benefit from the virtue of stability.

The practice of stability helps us accept a particular community, friend, place, or time so we can attend to what is before us and open ourselves to what God is up to in the present. In so doing, we can become “at home” with a particular person, place, or event, not waiting for someone or something else to make us feel “at home.”

For us to practice such “at home-ness” we need to be “at home” with ourselves. Seeking stability helps us to understand how and why we are tempted to run away from others and ourselves. This means we need to listen with grace to the grumbling of our own hearts so we might accept responsibility for why we so often seek to blame others for what is happening in our lives. The grumbling is also a nasty “gift” from Uncle Screwtape.

The implications of stability for our leadership are profound. Over time, leaders create the adjectives of the congregations they lead. Leaders have the opportunity to shape congregations as places that incarnate such adjectives like: non-anxious, grounded, prayerful, reflective (rather than reactive), intentional, and open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. If we as leaders incarnate such adjectives in ourselves, then they will, over time, become the adjectives of the community.

We can never “fix” our congregations. What we can do is work on ourselves by practicing the virtue of stability. As we inculcate stability in our own lives, we will see it become present in others, even those with whom we find it difficult to be “at home.”

Scott Benhase is the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of Georgia.