The old proverb, " A rolling stone gathers no moss " is credited to Publilius Syrus from the 1st century BC. It could be the mantra of the life in the West. Transient living is a major curse of our age. People who are always moving, with no roots in one place, avoid responsibilities and cares...and are at a loss when it comes to deep relationship of community. We miss the reality of cultivating a communal life through a shared experience of life together. The flip side is the myth that moss equates to " stagnation ", that people who are in a state of fluid transient living never lack ideas or creativity. Maybe the idea of constant change being a catalyst for evolutionary change. We may change but is it for the better?
Given the great motion in North American culture, it's not surprising that stability is virtually unknown in many churches today. We will drive for miles outside of our own neighborhoods to consume the best religious products the city has to offer. When we tire of that diet, we look for something else on the menu in the religious food court. We hunger for something, but it does not appear to be the stability of deep community.
Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove and the Rutba House community have been putting down roots in the historic Black Walltown neighborhood of Durham North Carolina for the past decade re-learning the practice of stability. Jonathon reflects on these experiences and on the Christian tradition of stability in his timely, and challenging book, " The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture."
The book is a journey re-capturing the profound wisdom of stability, in the midst of the theological refection, Jonathon weaves narrative " Front Porch " reflections interspersed between the chapters...vignettes, glimpses of his own life that cut deep into the heart of the practice of stability.
Jonathon launches into the book with the bold assertion that. " I hope to reprogram your default setting. As participants in a mobile culture, our default is to move. ...But I am convinced that we lose something essential to our existence as humans if we don't recognize our fundamental need for stability. ( pg-5 )
In spite of the overwhelming change that surrounds and fills our lives, Wilson-Hartgrove observes we have deep longings for something solid we can hang on to. Yet, try as we might, we can not find stability on our own, we have been created to be part of communities that are deeply rooted in place. He also reminds us the part of the practice of stability means, " unlearning the habits of a culture that tells us that the answer to our problems is somewhere else." ( pg-40 )
I love his suggestion that we need to slow down and reinterpret...what Christian community really is. To often in our mentality of consumption, it becomes fragmented into a plug and play mentality. Programs and groups that cater to needs may attract people, but it may be missing the truth of real Christian Community. The bigger picture of reinterpreting hopes and dreams through the community of people God has gathered for the purpose of tangibly embodying Christ to our neighbors, and the neighborhood that surrounds us. It's the transformation into Kingdom people, revealing, building the Kingdom in the midst of our neighborhoods.
The Wisdom of Stability is filled with stories from Jonathon's encounters with the Benedictines, both historical and contemporary. One senses Rutba House community has gleaned wisdom from the Benedictine practice of monasticism, that they have been able to import it into an urban monasticism...finding stability in communal living with God. I sensed from Jonathon's experience that " stability " must become almost a community vow, or rule. The practice of stability is not easy. Practicing community in the way of Christ, stability is not giving up on others. Instead of constantly running from problems, we stay put and wrestle with them in the context of community. It is tough but this is the reaction chamber in which transformation takes place, both on a personal and community level. The community learns patience, peacemaking and forgiveness.
Jonathon also reminds us the stability is not only a teacher, but is also sustenance when the storms of life rain down on the community. The tree on the cover of the book is a profound image and metaphor for stability. It is said, in most trees there is more growth below ground in the roots. Storms, may bend or even break the community, but in the stability found in deep roots, it will remain unmoved. There is also the reality of healing, new growth and deeper growth in the process. Jonathon reminds us on ( pg-94 ) that, " the people closest to us are not only our connection points in a support system that we depend on for our very lives...but they are also mirrors who reflect the hidden shadows of our souls."
Stability is not a magic solution for life in community, it brings challenges. Are we up to the challenge of seeking to practice stability? Stability is a season in which we fight the temptations of ambition, boredom, vainglory. There is part of us that wants to see tangible growth, to see the fruit. It is a season in which much of the growth is underground, in the depth and the earth of community living. Jonathon reminds us, " If God is faith in exile and present in human flesh, then everything, every place, is now holy. We learn to enjoy the fruit of stability as we embrace God's mission where we are ", (pg-139).
Jonathon Wilson-Hartgrove's " the Wisdom of Stability " is timely, encouraging and wisdom greatly needed for the Church today. He has seeked the wisdom of faith who have journied before us, with their voices, and experiences Jonathon encourages us all to cultivate the practice of stability.
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