“All stability challenges us to engage the people where we are. We do not listen to monastic wisdom but rather exploit it if we believe that we can enjoy the life with God that it points to without engaging this bedrock reality: life with the God we know in Jesus Christ is lived in community with other people. We can only grow into the fullness of what we are made to be in Christ by opening ourselves to the particular brothers and sisters who mediate Christ’s presence to us.”
-Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, The Wisdom of Stability
There’s this feeling I get on occasion. It’s sort of a “Where am I? How is my being here possible?” sensation. I got it often in those first few years married to Chris. We’d known each other only a year and a half prior to marriage. And sometimes I’d look over at the man in the bed beside me and say: “ Who are you? Where did you come from? Who grows up in Philadelphia?” He usually smirked, then ignored me. Or sighed.
We both felt that way when August was born, holding him on our couch after the hospital (actually!) allowed us to bring him home. “Don’t they know,” we asked each other, “that we have no clue how to take care of a baby?! They should have made us pass a test or something!” We’d stare that this small human with skin that had never been touched by wind or dirt and say: “Where did you come from, little person?” (If we asked him the same question now, he’s answer “Space.” But I digress.)
That’s how I still feel about living in San Francisco. Who lives in San Francisco? Sometimes I can’t believe I’m living my life on the Pacific Time zone. I feel so out of it out here. Like this evening at 5:30 when I realized that Obama had already given an Oval Office address on TV. Who knew? I’d been out doing afternoon errands.
I suppose there’s a point when the newness of a place wears off and that’s when roots begin to grow. We are one year into our life in San Francisco and I’m suddenly feeling like I live here. Tonight I hosted a group of young twenty-something girls who have invited me to lead their Bible study, just the sort of opportunity I’ve been praying for. I’m so excited.It seems like opportunities to serve are suddenly appearing in my life here. And it just so happens that it’s occurring at the same time as we near our one-year anniversary in SF and as we near the end of our lease. I wrote last week about the struggle I’m in to find a new apartment that will meet the needs of our little family. I asked you if it is possible for me to serve and love this city and at the same time, leave it for the suburbs. I have been so grateful for your responses, some on the blog and some via email. You all shared honestly and generously.
Place is weird thing. I think it’s because our culture is constantly trying to convince us that it doesn’t exist anymore. I can Skype with my mom. I can text my friend in Philly. I can know that Random Guy on Twitter in Kansas ate tuna salad for lunch. So when we’re actually forced to stop and recognize that our bodies are attached to a specific place, it feels both dangerous and liberating. I want to pretend that I haven’t left my family in Texas, that I haven’t left my community in Philly. But, when I actually consider the truth, I know they live lives without me, whether or not they communicate with me some other way.
As much as I may dream of returning to the land and culture Chris and I feel most comfortable in, right now, we live here.
The Benedictines make a vow to Stability, a value greatly lacking in our society of nomads. And as one of those nomads, I’m noticing in myself a tendency to distance myself from commitment to place. It’s easier, shallower. But really, a commitment to place is a commitment to people. And that’s the best answer I can find to the suburbs or no suburbs dilemma. God has called me to the people in my city and to leave, even for a twenty minute drive away, is to miss out on the lives in this place, here.
We still don’t have a place to live and I can’t promise that we’ll be somewhere specific in this city or outside of it, but I do know that five 23 year old women sat in my living room tonight and ate brownies, and I thought: I want to know who you are.
That just might be the beginning of community, the beginning of stability.