The Wisdom of Stability

33 months.
20 months (minus four).
20 months (minus four).
14 months.
4 months.
27 months.
24 months.
12 months.
36 months.
20 months.
42 months, and counting…

That’s how long I’ve lived at various street addresses since high school. Barely ever eking out three years. Granted, there were 72 total months in Durham, NC, scattered across three of those numbers.

But you get the point.

When people have asked me recently how things are going, the “and counting…” has been a significant part of my reply: I am currently experiencing the most stable living situation I have been part of since that glorious run of 53 months back in early elementary school (affectionately known as “Burke 1” around my family).

For the first time ever there is not some big “next thing.” There is not some looming graduation. There is no immanent job hunt on the horizon. And, frankly, it’s easy for me to feel bored or antsy.

Enter, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and The Wisdom of Stability.

Wilson-Hartgrove was a founder of the Rutba House in Durham, NC and is a leader in the “New Monasticism” movement. His message is simple: there is wisdom in staying put. There is fruit to be borne in committing oneself to a community for a long period of time. There is strength to be had from putting down deep roots.

The call to commit to place calls us away from a pseudo-spirituality that fails to take into account our embodied life:

spiritual growth depents on human beings rooting ourselves in a place on earth with other creatures.

Community, true and embodied community, becomes a means for hearing the calling of God:

we are able to best discern the call of God in the company of friends when we are rooted in the life-giving wisdom of stability.

Moreover, even our hyper-mobility may paradoxically point toward our heart’s desire for stability, for life-giving place. But the true foundation of such stability is God’s love toward us which precedes “our response of trusting love.”

Particularly challenging is Wilson-Hartgrove’s invitation to understand that the calling with which God summons us demands mature community:

We learn to dwell with God by learning the practices of hospitality, listening, forgiveness, and reconciliation–the daily tasks of life with other people. Stability in Christ is always stability in community.

the same restlessness that sends us searching for community also keeps us from settling down wherever we are.

Wilson’s book is packed with the depth of perspective that comes from investing years in a place. It draws a great deal of its content and trajectory from the desert fathers and mothers as well as other monastic traditions.

And this is where I had to wrestle a bit more with the book, setting aside critical judgments in order to most fully profit from JWH’s vision. Here are a few of my concerns, voiced while appreciating the whole and feeling myself challenged to live more and more deeply into the place where I find myself.

First, there is a bit of slippage between the language of “space” as a spiritual reality and the employment of such language to call us to remain in geophysical space. “Abide in me,” says Jesus–yes, remain! Yes, practice the stability of union with Christ! But this isn’t a call to stay put physically. The theological argument of the book is amenable to critique inasmuch as it does not take due account of this slippage between meanings.

Second, I confess to being a bigger fan of JWH’s version of monasticism than the desert fathers’. JWH’s is a missional monasticism: living in community together for the sake of the larger, economically depressed community of which they are a part. The desert monastics seemed a bit less engaged in community. In one story JWH relates, young novice is afflicted by the loneliness and despair that comes from the “mid-day demon.”

Demon; or, you are living alone rather than in the kind of community that God gives to help hedge against loneliness.

But despite my scruples, the book is challenging and convicting, offering a fresh vision for the importance of staying put, and fresh wisdom for working through the malaise of not having a “next big thing,” on the horizon.

I highly recommend the book; except, of course, for the fact that it might convince you to pour the rest of your life into the less-than-perfect community of saints and sinners in which you currently find yourself.

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