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The Benedictine Vow of Stability as an Antidote to Liquid Modernity

According to [Senator Ben] Sasse, social science data show that a human being needs four basic things to be happy:

  • A theological or philosophical view that explains death and suffering
  • A family
  • Close friends
  • Meaningful work (Defined as work in which people think that they’re needed. “Not, ‘Do I make a lot of money?’ but ‘When I go to work, are there actually people in the world who need what I do?”)

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In the years to come, he said, we will see lots of confusion as fragmented, atomized people scramble to find a “new tribe.” The senator said that Christians will have to “figure out how to revalue place and the local at a time when place and the local is evaporating for most people.”

He ended by urging the philanthropist to “invest time and treasure” figuring out how to teach people to do this, and to make it possible.

Whether the senator realized it or not, he’s talking about sociologist Zygmunt Bauman’s concept of “liquid modernity,” in which nothing is solid. The world Sen. Sasse describes is Bauman’s world. In the Benedict Option chapter on the Monks of Norcia, I wrote about the Benedictine vow of “stability” as an antidote to liquid modernity:

Along those lines, a tree that is repeatedly uprooted and transplanted will be hard pressed to produce healthy fruit. So it is with people and their spiritual lives. Rootlessness is not a new problem. In the first chapter of the Rule, Saint Benedict denounced the kind of monk he called a “gyrovague.”

“They spend their whole lives tramping from province to province,” he wrote, adding that “they are always on the move, with no stability, they indulge their own wills”—and are even worse, the saint said, than the hedonistic monks whose only law is desire.

If you are going to put down spiritual roots, taught Benedict, you need to stay in one place long enough for them to go deep. The Rule requires monks to take a vow of “stability”—meaning that barring unusual circumstances, including being sent out as a missionary, the monk will remain for the rest of his life in the monastery where he took his vows.

“This is where the Benedictine life is probably the most countercultural,” said Father Benedict [of Norcia]. “It’s the life of Mary, not Martha: to stay put at the foot of Christ no matter what they say you’re not doing.”

The Bible shows us that God calls some people to pick up and move to achieve His purposes, Father Benedict acknowledged. “Still, in a culture like ours, where everyone is always on the move, the Benedictine calling to stay put no matter what can call forth new and important ways of serving God.”

—from the article Ben Sasse On The World To Come by Rod Dreher

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