19 August, 2010

The Wisdom of Stability


I am currently reading The Wisdom of Stability. I met Jonathan at the reconciliation conference I attended at Duke in June. It is amazing to hear him speak, to see what God is doing through this man of humility. He is a leader in the new monastic movement, something I am contemplating getting to know more about - but that is a different post. 

Stability speaks of the need to plant yourself where you are, of putting down roots and settling in and seeing "home" as a place you cultivate your life, not a staging ground to whatever is next. If our ultimate call is to love our neighbor (which, it is), how can we do that, really, if we live in a place with one foot out the door, always scanning the horizon for the next thing? 

Jonathan grew up in the tobacco fields of North Carolina. He left for college, traveled the world, didn't really look back, assuming God meant for him to make an impact "out there." But when God called him home, he and his wife went back, and have planted themselves in the community around them. They struggle with those around them, watching their tiny town die and many good people leave. But they see celebrate with those around them, and understand the beauty of front porch visits and being in the day to day. 

Now, I am a far cry away from saying I am settling in CO - God would have to do a great work in me to get that desire to leave - and, ultimately, I don't think I am wired to stay here forever - but, while I am here, whether to January, next summer, or the end of (possible) grad school - be all here. Be here, put down roots, get to know my neighbors, spend time in homes and community, seek authenticity, and, like a tree planted by the river, adapt to and become ingrained with my surroundings. Who knows what is coming, but for today, be here. 

Be here - it is a sentence I say over and over again with a tinge of peace settling in. "Be here my daughter - and grow," I seem to hear a voice saying. 

This passage I read this morning really hit me. I would recommend Jonathan's book to anyone. It is a easy yet deep read. I love how he writes. It is profound and yet, a conversation with a good friend. 

To practice stability is to learn to love both a place and its people. The twelfth-century Benedictine Anselm of Canterbury compared a restless monk to a tree that, after being “frequently transplanted or often disturbed,” will not take root anywhere, but only withers and dies. “If he often moves from place to place at his own whim, or remaining in one place is frequently agitated by hatred of it,” Anselm observes, then the unhappy monk, “never achieves stability with roots of love.”
            Anselm’s warning is stern, but I love the idea that the stability we are made for helps us establish “roots of love,” binding us intimately to our landscape and the people who share life on it. How else can we learn the attention that is needed to really know a community? How else would we ever gain the patience that is required to care for a place over time?
            Without roots of love, we easily become slaves to our own desires, using the place where we happen to be as a staging ground for our own ambitions and manipulating the people around us so they might serve our objections. We do this, of course, with the best of intentions – even in God’s name. But until we give ourselves to a place – until we care enough to learn the names of its flowers and its second cousins – stability’s wisdom suggests we cannot know very much about the One who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son.
            Stability teaches us something about the importance of particularity. God’s omnipotence and omnipresence may be attributes we can contemplate in the abstract realm of ideas, but the love of God is as particular as a Jewish man named Jesus who was born of a woman named Mary in a town called Bethlehem. We know what love looks like when we know it among particular people in a given place. If the love of God and neighbor is our end goal, roots of love in stability are the means God has given for making progress in this life.
            The practice of stability, then, is an exercise in putting down roots. A good tree bears good fruit, we know, and the fruit of the Spirit begins with love. But we are product-orientated people, eager to skip over the process and enjoy the apple without attending to the soil and sun and roots that help it grow. All of us would love to be more loving, but we spend precious little time establishing roots of love. Without them, though, the tree withers and there is neither fruit nor shade nor a branch to tie a swing on and enjoy a summer evening. If I really want to learn to love my neighbor, I have to pay attention to the details of life in this place. Stability’s wisdom calls me to learn the ways and means of grafting onto this place.”

The Wisdom of Stability 
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
p. 83-84



(image from http://www.heartsandmindsbooks.com)

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