My good friend and mentor, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, has come out with yet another book to gift the church. As the title suggests, Jonathan believes that the millenia-old wisdom of the monastic tradition has something to teach us even today.
Let me start by saying what the book is not: It is not a diatribe against people who are led by God to move, or any sort of condemnation of people who have lived a nomadic/mobile lifestyle. I’ve seen many comments on other reviews or websites by people who have not read the book and assume Jonathan is suggesting that we never move anywhere. That is certainly one potential outcome of choosing a life of stability, but it is not what Jonathan is mandating.
Secondly, the book is also not a how-to manual for living in a place for 25, 50, 100 years. Jonathan is not writing as someone who has already lived in a place voluntarily for that long. He writes as someone relatively new to stability–less than ten years in his current neighborhood where he hopes to live out his days. Rather, the book is his attempt to pass along some wisdom he has learned from sources as varied as Benedictines and back country folk from North Carolina. What makes Jonathan’s approach to stability important is that it is addresses the restlessness and root-lessness of many young people these days, and offers an alternative to the pressure of hyper-mobility and shallow relationships. It is an invitation to a deep, meaningful, radical, purposeful existence.
What the book is saying is that maybe more of us are called to stick around than we’re led to believe. Maybe all the wandering around for years ultimately leaves us lacking. The book is also saying that if we want to be part of change and growth in a place, we have to be ready to stick it out. There’s no pretending that stability is easy, but that might just mean that the fruits of stability are that much sweeter.
One of the fascinating aspects of stability, to me, is that it is sometimes accidental and sometimes intentional, yet in both cases the common wisdom that emerges is that staying is worth it. Jonathan’s approach in the book is to change our default setting from “go” to “stay.” Early on in the book, he introduces the wisdom of Abba Antony, who instructs us that in whatever place we find ourselves, do not easily leave. Seems simple, doesn’t it? That’s probably what I like best about the book. “Wisdom” implies that it’s about cultivating an attitude or outlook that is tried and true.
Stylistically, the book is an enjoyable read. Mini “confessions” serve as segues between chapters and are really the highlight of the book. In simple prose, Jonathan offers his own wisdom and struggles to live into the committment to stability.
In the end, Jonathan is not saying we will never be led to move elsewhere. Like his other books, Jonathan offers in this book an invitation into a way of living that is full of life, with all it’s challenges and an abundance of joys. Perhaps it is much more radical to stay than to go.