The eighth step of humility is that we do only what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery and the example set by the prioress or abbot.
The common rule includes all the unique ways in which a community lives each day, ways idiosyncratic to the community, its choices and circumstance. These ways can be obvious and can be subtle. The common rule is about the unique culture of the community, it speaks to a community’s particular expression of presence and mission. It is important that this expression be consistent with the spirit of the Rule.
At Meditatio House, the way we live the Rule’s invitation to stability is an example of how the Rule and a common rule can combine. There are members of the house community regularly coming and going from different parts of the world. This, at first, does not seem consistent with the Rule’s guidance regarding communal stability – that all live in the monastery until death. It is, however, consistent with The WCCM’s intention to be, globally, a stable monastery without walls. The walls of Meditatio House are not the exclusive walls of The WCCM. People living at Meditatio House are members of The WCCM first; this allows us to have our communal experience in a broader context. We then take the fruits of our Meditatio experience out to The WCCM generally and to other live-in communities in particular.
The intention is to maintain what the spirit of the Rule recommends regarding communal stability, while being flexible enough to work with the challenge of adapting to new members with their unique perspective, expectations and culture. When we can, we balance the length of stay across all community members, be it (for example) three months, twelve months, two years, many years. This is an important part of the common rule of Meditatio House.
The Rule does not ask for meditation three times a day, however meditation is a vital part of the rhythm of our communal life of prayer. This also helps with stability in that the meditation being done at the house is also being done globally in weekly groups and in all the ways meditators live communally around the world. No matter where we might be physically, all are becoming what human and contemplative is.
Meditation and community, gently and consistently, challenge the tendency of ego to retain a certain (and often subtle) inflexible control of action and attitude. It is all too easy for this control to shape the common rule of a community, often in small, seemingly unimportant ways. For example, in what way should the milk be put back into the fridge – with the due date showing, with the handle facing the ‘correct’ way? What about bread crumbs in the butter – does it matter? How are we to respond to the damaging of a brand-new frying pan? There is being aware of others and there is the policing of the everyday in a rigid spirit. Where is the balance? The way we live in the moment and in the simple events of each day shape the common rule.
And what about no mobile phones at the dinner table; no TV in the mornings or after 9pm; a weekly meeting for all to check-in; regular date nights for mum and dad? All of these, too, could be considered part of a common rule. Some questions to ask here are do these guidelines serve the life of the community, the family and the person, our relationships? For what reason might we want to change the common rule: to avoid feeling uncomfortable or anxious or angry? If we want to do something else, might we be valuing that something else now only to regret the change later? The example set by our community leaders (the prior and parents for example) in these instances are important.
What has all this to do with humility? Flexibility growing in our decisions and routines is humility. Growing in the humble life can happen as we experience the ways we are attached to things and circumstance. In this experience grace can move to free us from rigidity and the need to control. The way the milk is handled then becomes less important, whereas clean butter may become more important; we let go of our mobile phones so we can be with and talk to each other. In humility we let go of what gets in the way of seeing the world in loving and common-sense ways. The love hidden in ordinary circumstance is doing its silent work. The common rule then shapes and softens into a balanced other-centredness; this is what it is to be humble.
…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you too were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-6, NET).