"In whatever place you live, do not easily leave it." —Abba Anthony, 3rd century AD
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We live in an age characterised by increased mobility. It is more and more common for us North Americans to live in many places, have several careers, and to travel often. With this backdrop to our lives, the idea to settle down into a single place for the long haul well, that seems kind of quaint, doesn’t it?
In spite of the odds, the notion of ‘rooting in place’ is becoming increasingly popular with some folks.
There’s even a trend out there amongst some Christians to move into a neighbourhood and live, work, shop, get food, play and pray – yes, even worship as close to home as possible. These Christians often quote Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of John’s gospel which, speaking of Jesus, says: “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood”.
Yes, in an age where more and more faith communities have become commuter-based - there is a group of Christians who are questioning the value of mobility and its impact not only on ecological and on social relationships – but also on with witness of our faith communities and the vitality of our spiritual lives.
Today, many Christian denominations are opting to close local or neighbourhood churches and form ‘niche’ or ‘hub’ churches - or even ‘virtual’ churches; most often based on the consumer taste of the worshipper, and most often predicated on a need to leave one’s neighbourhood (often passing by many other places of worship to get to them). Still, there are more and more voices which are asking us to consider staying put and start paying attention to that which is just outside our window.
Staying put: The more I think about it - it makes social, ecological – and, yes, even spiritual sense.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s book The Wisdom of Stability (Paraclete Press, 2010) is a short and sweet book worth checking out if you’re interested in beginning to explore some of these ideas. Wilson-Hartgrove draws on sources ranging from the ancient monastics through to the contemporary Christian poet-critic-farmer Wendell Berry to expound on the wisdom of rooting one’s self or one’s family in a place.
He argues that the ancient monastic wisdom of stability – a 1700-year-old Christian tradition - has a prophetic voice that needs to be heard in today’s North American culture – and that there’s an increasing discontent amongst those who’ve tasted mobility but in doing so have lost any sense of ‘home’ or ‘place’.
To root ourselves in place gives us the ability to speak to ecological, political and social concerns of that place with far more credibility. To root ourselves in place demands that we do the tough and rewarding work of knowing our neighbours, of living through and even reconciling conflicts, and of intertwining our lives with others. It also challenges us to know the spiritual ‘landscape’ of a place – and to be able to pray-for and pray-with the people of that place – even if they don’t share our commitment to faith.
I believe our neighbourhoods could be culturally, socially and spiritually transformed if people of faith didn’t easily leave them in order to move on to the ‘next best thing’ - if we worshipped with those who we shopped with, grew food with, made art with, played sports with and who our kids went to school with.
I believe our city could be transformed if people of faith made a commitment to root ourselves in a place and seek stability there; if we took the time to learn about our neighbourhoods – of their history, people, geography, ecology and stories.
I believe we would witness a lot of beauty if we took the risk of deepening our local relationships. All of that, in turn, that would radically shape our spiritual identity as people of faith.
In a town like Victoria which is often stereotyped (perhaps unfairly) as being a place of retirees, who come here late in life, and of students, who are often only here for a few years – I believe there is a challenge for all people of faith to root in place as we seek to recover and reclaim the ancient art and wisdom of stability.
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