The most important thing most of us can do to grow spiritually is to stay in the place where we are.’
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Author, The Wisdom of Stability
Most readers of The Modern Monk Blog know that my personal spiritual journey is that of within a Christian tradition (not traditional Christian, mind you) with a Benedictine bent. I like to talk about it as walking along The Way, following Jesus with the path illuminated by The Rule of St Benedict. In other words, I follow a Christian path, and the way I walk it is in Benedictine shoes.
The Rule of St Benedict is an amazing little book. Written as a rule for monasteries that he set up in the early 6th Century, The Rule is not, as it sounds, a strict list of draconian laws to keep monks in check. Certainly it was taken seriously and a Monk who took their full profession were many times challenged by their superiors with The Rule as the benchmark.
But what The Rule provides is a structure in which to thrive. It provides a framework, if you will, or an order to maintain ones disciplines of their faith – prayer, work, ministry, worship, justice and so on. This is not necessary for all Christians. But for a systematic guy who needs structure and routine to operate well, The Rule gave me a safe ground within which to thrive.
Benedictines take a simple, three part vow. Obedience, Stability, Conversion of Life. And of these three, it is probably the second one that has been most illusive for most of my life. Which is a shame because the benefits of stability, as contrary to modern life as a stable life seems to be, are of great benefit to our communities. And because the idea is so counter-cultural, our communities suffer for lack of it…
I grew up an army kid. By the time I finished High School, I had lived in 11 houses. By the time I was married a couple of years later, I had lived in three more. And as I prepare to celebrate 20 years of marriage in three months time, my wife and I have shared life to date in 11 places we have called home. Of those 11, both my daughter (13) and son (11) have lived in 7 of them. On average for my son, that’s 1.57 years per house! For me, it’s 1.6.
What I have noted however is this desire I have for connection. I desire to live in community. I want to live in the place where I also shop, eat, play, work, run, worship and do life. I call it The Village Vibe. Problem for me is that I seem to live in a time and place in history and geography that doesn’t seem to have this many places any more.
But The Village Vibe doesn’t exist because there is no where to do it. I reckon it doesn’t exist for two reasons. First, there is a loss of desire for community, so engaging in life with people in your village is darn hard. But second, building The Village Vibe requires a commitment to stability. And no one these days wants the “locked in” vibe of planting themselves somewhere forever.
Stability has so much going for it. Monks can’t run away from problems. They have to work them out. Monks don’t flit from one place to another. Relationships are for life. Monks don’t have a lack of purpose. They are part of a legacy that has built for some time in the place where they feel called to be; and that will continue long after they have gone. Monks don’t look to move onto the next big thing. The thing they are on now is where it’s at. It means the work they do has time to be planted, watered, grown and brought to bear fruit for the community in which they live and serve for generations to come.
There is something minimal about stability too. You don’t shift around so what you have and where you live – you tend to be committed to those things. You look after them and repair them and care for them in a way that differs from the one who can pack up and move to the better, brighter, bigger, more up-to-date.
And stability grows us in so many ways that we just cannot grow when we move around.
About 12 years ago, I went through a period of personal doubt about my call to ministry. I remember saying to a mentor that I felt like a palm tree – sure I was tall and bore good fruit, but my roots were shallow and it would have only taken a strong wind to blow me down. I remember saying I wanted to be an oak. It would take longer to get there, but I wanted deep roots and solid footing. And to get that stability required surrendering to somewhere.
I honestly think that life would be so much simpler if we stopped looking and dreaming for the next thing that would be bigger and better and we committed to where we were. As my young wise and good friend Katie Ebenezer once posted on her Facebook status – The grass is always greener where you water it.