Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Wisdom of Stability

So much of our lives consist of running--running from one event to another, running through high school, college, and job training, running to get the telephone or running to the store to buy the newest version of the iPhone. In our fast-paced American culture, speed and mobility are paramount.

Yet in his book, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture (Paraclete Press, 2010), Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove explores the costs of running and the often overlooked advantages of staying still. Wilson-Hartgrove looks to the wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers—the likes of St. Antony, Julian of Norwich, and Bernard of Clairvaux—as well as to the lessons learned from more current voices like Wendell Berry. Wilson-Hartgrove’s own restless past and rooted present stand behind his assertion that the difficult discipline of stability is worth “staying” with.

Wilson-Hartgrove believes that stability is life-giving in our draining mobile culture. Learning the discipline means learning to follow the Greatest Commandment to its fullest, to live in long-term community where you and the other are known fully and loved deeply. Using examples of communities from the civil rights movement, Wilson-Hartgrove shows how the body of Christ unites when its members breathe the same air and encounter the same battles together. When that unified community gathers on a Sunday, after weathering the storms that come from living life together during the week, they are able to sing in unison against the devil’s schemes and in eager expectancy of God’s greater plans.

What makes Stability an especially worthy read is that even if your life is, at least for the moment, inescapably unstable (i.e. child running between divorced parents, young adult on the brink of graduation, adult in the process of changing or finding jobs, etc.), Wilson-Hartgrove addresses more than the task of staying in one place. In his chapter entitled, “Midday Demons,” he focuses on stability as a daily discipline in one’s prayer life. Wilson-Hartgrove recognizes, along with a long line of Christians before him, that it is often after we commit to stay still--in prayer, solitude, or study--that we are tempted with the expected yet overbearing “midday demons:” demons of boredom and ambition. Speaking with the voices of the desert fathers and mothers, Wilson-Hartgrove gives practical, wise, and surprisingly simple methods to fight against what tears us away from solitude with God.

The Wisdom of Stability is a must-read for youth leaders, parents, and teenagers alike. The idea of “being rooted” is counter-cultural in our day for adults and students, yet rootedness yields fruits of patience, compassion, and a better understanding of ourselves and God. Wilson-Hartgrove lovingly challenges us to learn to love God and our neighbors more deeply by slowing down. With stability, we have the chance to not only enter the world of the other, but to loyally join the other in genuine community.

--Angelina Deola

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