Turn the ignition and you get a sort of ticking, like an insect. Nothing more. My car is covered in a thick layer of dust, spattered with bird mess, and the tyres need pumping. One maroon-ish Seat Ibiza looking very sorry for itself, as though it hasn’t been driven for months. Probably because it hasn’t been driven for months.
As lockdown eases, or slips, I’m imagining what release might look like, how to manage a return to normal life (as if anyone’s ever led such a thing). So I borrow my brother-in-law’s jump cables. Clipping the claws to the battery terminals, I feel I’m jump starting an old life. Not my car’s, my own. A life of mileage, diary appointments, meetings, agendas, deadlines. For some of us, lockdown has been claustrophobic, a time of anxiety; for others, it’s felt like a reclamation of something precious, a prayerful pause.
Saint Moluag (sometimes known as Lugidus or Lugaidh or Lua), was a Scottish missionary of the sixth century, the founder and abbot of the monastery at Clonfert in County Galway. Bernard of Clairvaux credits Moluag with the founding of over a hundred monastic houses in Ireland. A busy man, and well-travelled.
Yet, for Moluag, the religious life is rooted, static and still. ‘Ubi stabilitas, ibi religio,’ he wrote. ‘Where there is stability, there is religion.’
My Seat Ibiza is stable. It’s not going anywhere, even after the application of jump leads. Drat, or words to that effect.
A contemporary of Moluag, Saint Benedict codified this notion of stability into his Rule, the regulations he developed for the community he founded at Monte Cassino. Benedict believed:
Everything necessary for religious life ought to be available within the walls of the monastery so that there is no need for the monks to go wandering about outside, which is completely unprofitable for their souls.The Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 66
Stabilitas, or staying put, obediently, in the place where you have made your profession, is one of the three obligations of Benedict’s Rule.
I can proudly say my Seat is the ideal Benedictine car, no chance of it wandering anywhere.
But surely instability, being thrust beyond the walls of the monastery, beyond the comfortable and the familiar, lies at the heart of Christian witness from the very beginning? Immediately following his baptism, Jesus is driven by the Spirit out into the wilderness (Mark.1:12; Matthew.4:1; Luke.4:1). And in his turn, Jesus sends the apostles out into a hostile world, instructing them,
that they should take nothing for their journey, except a mere staff – no bread, no bag, no money in their belt.Mark 6:7-8
Jesus’ ministry is characterised by movement, by an almost frenzied to-ing and fro-ing, the perpetual push and pull of popular ministry. No stabilitas here, no monastery walls. And no chance of being locked down. Even by death.
Better have another go with those jump leads. Or maybe it’s the spark plugs…
Juxtaposing Jesus’ life and ministry with Moluag’s call for stabilitas and Benedict’s warnings against venturing outside the walls appears to reveal a genuine and deep tension in the way religious life is lived, or is meant to be lived. Is it ideally static and stable and rooted, or ought it be dynamic, risky, questing, out in the world? While this may appear to be a slightly musty ecclesial question, it has a very specific application to us all now.
In one sense our lives in lockdown are much more Benedictine. There is stability, and we’ve found ways of expressing our faith in that stability – in stillness, in reading, in quiet and in private prayer. Our lives have become religious almost in the original meaning of the word. ‘To be religious’ did not until recently mean to have faith in the modern sense of a personal or private conviction; it meant being a member of a closed religious order, having taken strict vows. Our word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin – religo, religere: to bind, to fasten. Religion is lockdown.
But on the other hand, these last weeks have offered us wildly new ways of ‘wandering about outside the walls’, and not at all unprofitably, as Benedict worried. We wander the world via Zoom and YouTube and Facebook. (I can think of two people regularly logging in to our Zoom worship on Sundays from Switzerland.) And these emails are being read all over the world. The reflections take nothing for the journey, no bag, no money in their belts. Church life is suddenly, radically apostolic again.
And in our communities, walls have broken down. We’ve found new ways of looking out for one another; we’ve recognised afresh, and eminently practically, the imperatives at the very heart of our faith: to love God and to love one another. Any historic divide between church and community is being effaced.
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.Matthew 28:19-20
A missionary, Moluag would have taken Jesus’ message at the end of Matthew’s gospel radically to heart. The stability Moluag and Benedict talk about is not a lock down but an opening up.
If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.John 8:36
Freedom and stability are ultimately the same thing: the love of God through Christ Jesus.
And – there! – finally, coughing and spluttering, the engine starts.
Looking forward to driving my car, and in memory of the pioneering, brilliant Florian Schneider, who died last month, this is Autobahn by Kraftwerk from 1974. Their music captures, for me, something of that exhilarating tension between stability and dynamism, control and freedom.
Heavenly Father, we pray:
stillness, to know you here,
yearning to search for you there,
and the wisdom to strike a balance.
Send us out, and draw us in,
apostles and solitaries;
Inspire us to find stability in the search,
and freedom in the firmness of our roots.
And along the way,
make us constant in our care for others,
diligent in our desire to do your will,
and obedient in offering ourselves in your service
through Jesus Christ our Lord,