The Benedictine monk or nun takes vows of Stability, Obedience and Conversion of Life. There is much that can be learned from the three vows not only for the life of the professed religious, but for the layperson who wishes to follow Christ more closely and fully.
I’ll be writing in more detail about the vows on this blog, but a brief consideration here can get us started. Stability is, very simply, the realization that if we cannot find God here where we are, then we cannot find him anywhere. God is present with us and wants us to draw more closely to him within and through the trials, traumas, tragedies and triumphs of ordinary life. God is not elsewhere.
I once had a friend who was an alcoholic. He said at his AA meetings sometimes a member would be missing and someone would say, “Oh Janet? She’s done a geographical.” In other words, she had moved away thinking that a new location was going to solve her problems. Unfortunately, when she unpacked her bags she would have found that some evil fairy had packed the problems in the bottom of her suitcase. Still there. Still to be lived with. Still to be faced. Still to be solved and resolved by God’s grace.
Obedience for the monk or nun will mean direct obedience to their religious superior in all things, but at the heart of obedience is the complete submission of the will to God’s will. In every other walk of life we expect to be disciplined if we wish to achieve something. We expect to obey coaches if we wish to become great athletes. We obey mentors if we wish to become great scholars. We obey teachers if we wish to become virtuosi. We obey the master if we wish to accomplish anything great. We follow the guide if we wish to conquer Everest.
Why then, when it comes to the spiritual life, do we imagine that we can do it ourselves? Why do we think that we can be “spiritual but not religious”? Why do we imagine that we can go church shopping, find the community that makes us feel good and follow a religious teacher that makes feel nothing but comfortable? Obedience in the spiritual life requires that we find a master and follow his guidance. How do you expect to reach the destination if you do not follow the map? How do you expect to reach heaven if you do not walk in the path of those who have made that journey before you?
Conversion of Life is no less than the complete conversion of oneself into the image of Christ. “Christian” after all means “little Christ.” Conversion of Life means the transformation of the whole person from the deepest foundational part of life through to every action, thought, deed and decision.
Conversion of Life is the end goal of the three vows together. Obedience is only possible with stability and conversion of life can only gradually be given as the soul submits in obedience and puts down the necessary stable deep roots for conversion of life to flourish.
The three vows are therefore like a three stranded braided rope. The three are interwoven and interdependent and make up the strong cord that binds the soul to Christ–the strong cord by which he can rescue the perishing and draw them home at last.