February 5, June 6, October 6

The eighth step of humility is that a monk does only what is endorsed by the common rule of the monastery and the example set by the 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.

The stability lived At Bonnevaux[1] is an example of how the rule and a community’s common rule can combine. Here, both the live-in community of Bonnevaux, as well as other members of the WCCM who come and go from different parts of the world, all live together in the one place. 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 common rule to be, globally, a stable monastery without walls.

Everyone living at Bonnevaux are members of the WCCM first; this allows all to have a communal experience at Bonnevaux in a broader context. We then take the fruits of this experience out to the WCCM generally, and to other live-in communities. And the meditation being done at Bonnevaux is also being done globally in weekly groups and in all the ways meditators live communally around the world.

Meditation and community, gently and consistently, challenge the tendency of ego to retain a certain (and often subtle) 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 abbot 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 can then shape and soften into a balanced other-centredness; this is what it is to be humble.

With all humility and gentleness, with patience, bear one another in love. Take every care to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, one body, and one Spirit, just as you were called in the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, through all and in all. To each one of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s giving. (Eph. 4:2-7, RNJB).

[1] This is the name given to the WCCM’s international retreat centre, located near Poitiers, in southern-central France.