The notion of staying put in today's "hypermobile" culture is not only foreign --- it's also looked down on. Ours is a nation of people always on the go, whether they're moving up (or down) the corporate ladder, spending hours each day commuting or running errands, or relocating from one city to another. It's mainly to that last group that THE WISDOM OF STABILITY is addressed, but the wisdom applies on all levels.
As a leader in the new monastic movement, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove today lives out the concept of stability, but the restlessness of his earlier days led him to leave his home state of North Carolina in search of a fuller, more exciting life he expected to find in the Northeast. But a more compelling sense of rootlessness, and a desire to live in a community in which the poor were underserved, led him to return to the South, determined to stay. For the past decade, he and his family have lived in a decaying, poverty-stricken neighborhood in Durham, North Carolina, and it is from this location and perspective --- that of his current and future home --- that he writes.
Drawing wisdom from the writings of the often-misunderstood desert monastics of the early centuries of Christianity, as well as from traditional monastics such as Benedict, the author makes a convincing case for becoming rooted in a particular community. At the heart of his argument is the need to become rooted in love for others, which has little opportunity to grow and flourish when transient lifestyles are the norm. "Just as stability depends on our acknowledging our limits and our need for other people," he writes, "it also demands of us a willingness to engage the neighbor who most annoys us." He tells the story of a desert monk who found another monk to be so annoying that he decided to leave the area --- only to discover that the other monk was a step ahead of him. "Is it on my account that you are going away?" the second monk asked. "Because I go before you wherever you are going." Whether it's an annoying neighbor, our dissatisfaction with our lives, or our own demons we're attempting to flee, those things will continue to appear on the road ahead of us until we deal with them.
Among the many advantages to staying put, the author writes, is that becoming grounded in a community enables us to work out our life with God by forcing us to stop, come face-to-face with our problems, and allow God to transform us in the process. Monks and nuns in traditional monastic communities understand this concept all too well; while the outside world sees them as escaping from the world, they know that putting up with their fellow monks and nuns in such close community is far from an escape. The new monastics also understand that concept, as evidenced by Wilson-Hartgrove's "Front Porch" reflections, a series of glimpses into his world that intersperse the chapters. It's clear that the challenges of choosing to interact with his neighbors, and not just the pleasant ones, provide fertile ground for God's transformative work to take place.
Stability is a concept that is seldom addressed, and it's not likely to become a popular topic in a hypermobile culture any time soon. But for those people whose restlessness has made them even more restless, THE WISDOM OF STABILITY offers a much-needed dose of encouragement. And for those who truly have ears to hear, Wilson-Hartgrove's powerful case for becoming rooted in a community has life-changing potential.
Reviewed by Marcia Ford on May 1, 2010