In addition to their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, Benedictine Monks apparently take a fourth vow, the so-called Vow of Stability. I’m no expert in the intricacies of Catholic Monastic Orders, far from it, but the Internet tells me that when a brother takes a Vow of Stability, he promises to remain in the original monastic community he has entered for the rest of his life. In other words, he promises to build the community that he has, rather than move on at some to point to seek new, potentially more promising opportunities.
From an outsider’s perspective the Vow looks very much like a practical way of countering the very human itch to look for other, potentially more productive pastures – where, as the old maxim has it, the grass always looks greener.
Which brings me to some of the reasons people move to Vermont: most do so intentionally, looking for something we continue to lose in much of American society – something that will ground them and their families – a kind of inter-connectedness and the stability that comes with it.
An oft-heard complaint about small towns is that everyone knows everyone and their personal business. But that also means knowing when to extend a lending hand in times of need; treating neighbors like family; and expending energy and resources not just for the benefit of an individual or family, but also for the entire community.
And here’s where I think the Vow of Stability may teach us an important lesson - about reaffirming commitment to community, by letting our roots go deeper, buying and fixing homes, reconsidering that possible move to Florida, Arizona or California; reaffirming commitment to our beliefs, sacred or secular; and to our family, spouses and partners.
Our society is only as stable as we make it. With all the disruption going on in the World, it’s ever more important to create spaces where we can feel we belong. This year, as we head into the New Year and all that comes with it, I hope we look beyond what parties we get invited to; what presents we’ve received; or how we’re going to resolve to do better next year with our personal vanities – and commit ourselves instead to keep Vermont moving forward, and to make it a stable place where everyone feels welcome, grounded and supported.