About 25 years ago, my husband and I moved to Baltimore, Maryland, so he could go to graduate school at Johns Hopkins University. I had decided to put off seminary for a year, and see how Baltimore went. Baltimore is a far cry from the Maine woods, and I sometimes found myself in tears on our stoop, missing everything about the wildnerness. It was an exile of sorts. Not as dramatic as the Israelites, or the Jewish Disapora, or political exile, or refugees, but certainly an uprooting, and homesickness, and most of all, a huge longing to go home.
During that time, one of my friends recommended a book: Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, by Joan Chittester. She is a Benedictine nun from The Benedictine Sisters of Erie. She has continued to teach and pastor many Christians beyond the boundary of her community, and is now an international figure, with a strong voice for justice and peace.
In Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, she writes of the monastic vow of stability. Quite simply, it is the decision to stay in the place you are planted. It’s a Benedictine vow, and at the time, it helped me negotiate the tumult of graduate school, jobs, long-distance family issues, and what would be a difficult passage.
Recently, I came across another book, for another time, our time, and our communities which are so busy, so rushed, so transient, and so willing to be uprooted for the promise of better things somewhere else. This book comes out of what some are calling the New Monasticism. You’ll be glad to know that this phrase, new monasticism, comes from one of our Christian heros in Lutheran tradition: Dietrich Bonhoeffer. The phrase has been picked up by many younger people in the emergent church movement. Monasticism in the early church was a protest movement, living life against the grain of a decadent and secular culture. New Monasticism is a similar protest, and its adherents are seeking to live a life in keeping with the Gospel, like so many reformers of old, from St. Benedict, through Francis, through Luther:the church is always on a reforming roll.
Stability is one of the values of Benedictine spirituality, and it turns up in the lives of the New Monastics, who have come to see that perpetual movement is not necessarily the best thing to do. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, one of the pastor theologians of this movement published recently The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. Here on Cape Ann, our community is fairly stable, generations have lived here, children return here to live. Sometimes stability is a blessing; sometimes it can be depressing. But stability offers us a chance to tend our daily lives with wisdom and attention, with patience and love, with awareness. And we learn to keep opening the door to each other, in new ways, every day.
Here’s a quote from the book: “Careful attention to the mundane tasks of daily life is the process by which we exorcise ambition and grow in love. If we really want to make a difference, stability’s wisdom says to our ambition, we must learn what it means for each of us to do the knitting of life together with God’s people.” (p.115) So here’s stability’s wisdom: “don’t just do something, sit there.” Good practice for Lent.