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Stability

One of the pillars of Christian monasticism is the vow of stability. In the monastic context, vowed stability means making a commitment to remain in a particular, geographically rooted monastic community until death. The purpose of such stability is to remove any escape route from the process of inward conversion that the monastics have committed themselves to in community. These women and men know that they will live the rest of their lives and die within the context of the vowed community to which they first committed themselves.

As a Quaker, formal, vowed monasticism has never been a live option for me. Even if it were, the fact that I am married and feel that God calls me to an energetic engagement with the surrounding culture would present stumbling blocks to embracing that path. Nevertheless, while I see that my calling in the Lord is distinct Eastern Market - Washington, DCfrom that of my vowed brothers and sisters, I also perceive some similarities.

My natural state is one of flight. I like new ideas and projects, new locales and experiences. I like to start projects, but finishing them is harder. All things being equal, I am likely to seek the sweetness of beginning. I tend to flee the struggle of enduring to the finish.
For someone like me who is a “starter,” the great temptation is not to finish. There is always another intriguing possibility on the horizon (or, more likely, dozens!); there is plenty of good work to do that does not involve the painful endurance of years.

But growth takes more than a decision to begin. This is the reason that the early Quaker movement taught that justification (getting “saved,” being at peace with God) must go hand in hand with sanctification (being remade in Christ’s image, the conversion of all areas of ones life). The decision to start is not enough. There must be an ongoing decision to be faithful, to submit to Christ, to take up the cross and walk with it. Even when it is difficult. Even when it is painful. Even when it is boring.

In my life, “stability” is about remaining where God has placed me and being willing to stay there until my death, if God wills it. In my present situation, it means Plants at Eastern Market - District of Colombiacommitting to be faithful in the work that God has given me here in the DC area. As long as it takes, unless and until God releases me for a different kind of service.

I make my vow of stability to Jesus Christ, to remain in him and in his Way, all the days of my life. This is my spiritual vow of stability: not to any particular place or community, but to God’s call on my life. And it may amount to the same thing, in the end. If God wills it, I will remain here in Washington, laboring for the Kingdom in this particular place and community until I die. I will not seek to escape my Holy Orders, instead living by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.

  • I appreciate your comments. However, I would share some experiences. On a number of occasions I felt that I was answering God’s call and was committing to a stable and long term commitment, but “those in power” felt otherwise and I was “forced” to leave. I have wondered if I did not “listen” well enough or whether I may have been “too prophetic” as I was once “accused” of or for some other reason my sense of stability and calling did not match someone else’s. In my case, much of the issues seemed to arise from the administration of “Quaker institutions” that I was employed by that did not seem to agree with my understanding of what I was “called” to do.
    In each case (at least 4 situations), except the last one that in a sense is still being resolved, “way opened” to another commitment and expected stability. However, the fact that this happened more than once or twice has made me very aware of my own frailties, which of course I have enough of, but also of the mystery of the Lord’s workings. At one “extreme” I have been compared to Johnny Appleseed, planting seeds and then moving on, and to a prophet while at the other “extreme” someone who listens to himself to the exclusion of others and is too much aware of his “ego.” Regardless, there seem to be times that our own desires and commitments may be “overridden” by others.

    May your desire for stability and your commitment be successful and fruitful.

  • Micah, The true nature of will is of surrender. False will has a hard edge, needs some place to push off from. It believes it is on a journey on behalf of God rather than realizing that God is on a journey through us. It speaks of relaxed humility, not struggle or argument. Action arises from virtues because identity in Christ leaves no room for anything else. There is no stability in a world that is truly identified with God because the world is aways changing an need calls out action that is appropriate to context–what else can we do? Reaching for stability is inimical to the spiritual life. It what the ego wants: to fix things and make them predictable and controllable. The fruits of contemplation leave us free to do what necessary not because we want to but because it is all that we can do. This is the true meaning of vowing in a salvific sense. It’s God manifested as true will.

  • My experience is that God’s idea of community and our idea of community are not the same. I have been moved in and out of communities many times. They have been fruitful experiences. I like to believe they were fruitful for the community as well as for myself. I believe they are natural organisms that are given birth, mature and die. Sometimes they get resurrected.