Saint Meinrad Seminary & School of Theology

Formation and Education for the Life of the Church




I'm training to run my first 5K on my 31st birthday this September. Recently during one of my training sessions, I looked down at the treadmill and saw the word "Stableflex" written on the base. I chuckled to myself, due to the juxtaposition of these two seemingly antithetical ideas "stable" and "flexible."

Undoubtedly, the clever term is used by the manufacturer to describe the fact that the treadmill itself is flexible, yet stable, and presumably moves with your own movements. I quickly realized what a profound idea this treadmill was teaching me, namely, that flexibility is the key to stability.

As monks, we take three vows: stability, fidelity to the monastic way of life, and obedience. Stability can mean two things, really: stability of place and stability of heart. Stability of place calls the monk to stay in one place, the enclosure of the monastery, so that stability of heart can take place.

What exactly is stability of heart? The great monastic writer John Cassian referred to it as "purity of heart," and what it basically amounts to is one thing: to seek Christ above all. As monks, we strive to become more loving, more Christ-like. We strive for this "purity of heart," this "stability of heart," by maintaining a stability of place. Stability says that the monk will not expect others to change, but be willing to change himself. Flexibility is crucial.

The survival of a monastic vocation (or any vocation for that matter), I'm convinced, is based not on holiness, not on piety, not on flawless liturgical attendance, but on persistence and flexibility.

We have to be willing to adapt to ever-changing conditions and situations. We have to be willing to get back up when we fall. We have to be willing to let God do His work on us.

Our willingness to be flexible to changing situations and to other people (and their changing moods!) is what will bring us to that stability of heart that John Cassian speaks of and, consequently, a love for Christ that is above all else.

But, in the spirit of the holy Rule, moderation is crucial. If we are too flexible, we run the risk of lacking real substance, of lacking depth. On the other hand, if we are too rigid, we'll break.

For some reason, this idea reminds me of ice cream. If it is too cold and frozen, you can't scoop it out, let alone eat it! Alternatively, melted ice cream is no fun either! We must strive for a happy medium.

So being stable and being flexible aren't antithetical after all; in fact, they go hand in hand. Our ability to adapt to ever-changing situations, our ability to flex,is what will lead us to stability of heart so that nothing will be preferred to the love of Christ.

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Echoes from the Bell Tower is a blog devoted to observations on Christian faith, spirituality and everyday events, by authors with a connection to the Benedictine values found at Saint Meinrad Archabbey and its Seminary and School of Theology. Contributors include students, permanent deacons, Benedictine oblates and Saint Meinrad monks. Their stories, thoughts and ideas highlight the mission and vision that ring out from the bell towers on this Hill in southern Indiana.