In preparing for a recent message on acedia, I revisited teachings on the Bendictine vow of stability. I came across a new book by an author I appreciate, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, on this very topic - The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture.
Stability was a vow Saint Benedict called his monastic communities to make that essentially meant they were committed not just to God, not just to the monastic lifestyle, but to THIS monastery and THESE monks for life. Some monastic rules allows the movement from one community to another as their vow was to a way of life and not necessarily a certain place or a certain set of people.
What an interesting thought. We are not just called to devotion to God. We are not just called to devotion to a certain lifestyle. We are called to devotion to a certain place and a certain people. Benedictines were to equate these three devotions as one and the same. Their calling to each other and their calling to God were not divided easily.
I recently watched a fascinating movie called Of God's and Men with my wife. It is a must see for a great many reasons. In short it is a group of 8 Trappist monks (trappists are the grandsons of the Benedictines) who wrestle with whether or not to leave the North African Muslim community in which they have been placed when extremist groups are attacking outsiders and Christian sympathizers at will. It is a deep, honest narrative of what being called to follow the way of Jesus in a specific place with a specific people means.
This vow, this virtue, is radically countercultural, dangerously subversive to the whole way of life we have created for ourselves in contemporary western society. It is a relentless commitment to community in a world that calls for a dogged pursuit of your own dreams and ideals as well as a rugged grasp on individualism.
The vow of stability is painfully absent today. We think it is more important to get community "right" then to live well in community as it is. Ironically, we are ready and willing to defame, break, and abandon the community in the pursuit of some ideal, more theologically sound community that we can either create on our own or discover in our search.
What I love about this vow is that it is not idealistic or blind. Stability is not a vow for those who brush over the community's mistakes or excuse hypocrisy or are complacent with mediocrity. No, stability is a vow for those who are fully aware, painfully aware, or the desperate need the community is in for change - radical, fundamental, repentance-laden change. Stability says that you can't see real change unless you are in the community. Leaving to go and found your own more perfect ideal - though this may be delightfully appealing - is not how holy ground is cultivated to raise up a holy people.
In JWH's book community a "half-born condition." I love that - a half-born condition. It is a quote from the founder of Koinonia Farm, Clarence Jordan - a practitioner of stability even a great risk when the KKK threatened everything they had. This was Jordan and Hartgrove's way of saying that real Christian fellowship is always both corrupt and dying because of man AND living and thriving because of God's Spirit. The vow of stability requires that we embrace BOTH sides of this. Either side alone is false. To only see the brokenness is to become a cynic, though likely full of biblical justification for one's accusations a cynic all the same who is a destroyer of real community. To only see life is to bury one's head in the sand, though full of biblical justification for one's excuses a blind man all the same who is a destroyer of real community.
Community - real, full, biblical, God-honoring community - will always have petty preferences, arguments about money, divisions about worship, pride about who ranks above whom, etc. This is true NOT because something is fundamentally wrong with the church but because WE are fundamentally flawed and God has called us into community to re-form us into His image. Community will always be a half-born condition. If we leave one community so that we can pursue better community elsewhere, we are ironically making a decision to function as an individual.
The church is always one and the same God's perfect bride, holy and blameless, required to live exactly like Jesus AND God's unruly child, dirty and broken, rejecting His plans and desires.
The only way to live into both realities well is through the practice of stability. We don't deal with brokenness by leaving. We don't find health by finding something new. Like a bird whose flight away from the eggs prevents their birth, we won't discover God's presence more fully because we answer acedia's call to go where there are better people in a better place doing better things.
Stability... it is the only way to living fully into, seeing the beauty of, and being changed by our half-born condition.