Living with Contradiction (1997)

In Living with Contradiction, Ester de Waal writes about the contradictions inherent to the spiritual life through the lens of St Benedict’s Rule: solitude and community, giftedness and grace, desert and marketplace, death and (new) life.

The thoughts that I found most helpful and that will stick with me come from her reflections on two of the monastic vows: stability and conversatio morum (“the conversion of life”). Stability demands fidelity to place—though this often is geographic, de Waal speaks of inner stability as well. I must know who I am or else I will get lost in a sea of possibilities. So I must be stable in my identity: child of God, loved, accepted. I must also hold the paradoxical call to conversatio morum—inner change and progress. The conversion of life means that I must not allow myself to “fossilize” or become dormant or be lazy. Conversion of life means I must change, bending toward the arc of God’s love and justice more and more fully. This is an important both/and for me that I am seeing more and more; de Waal has given me a helpful image for processing my own need for both stability and change.

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