Letting the Roots Grow

After over a year since I blogged on a regular basis, I hope to return to a more weekly effort to get something up. One recent development that has inspired this return to writing is that I’ve moved to Deanwood, a neighborhood in far NE D.C. I’m excited about this transition for many reasons, as I’ve moved here with several other friends and we’re sharing life together between our two houses. As we endeavor to figure out how our lives fit together and with our neighbors, I hope to offer some of my own reflections here.

I come from a family of “stickers.” We tend to settle pretty close to where we were raised and, once settled, don’t do a lot of moving around. My parents live 15 minutes from where they grew up. They’ve lived in the same house now for 23 years. They’ve been in the same Bible Study with some of the same friends that they knew in high school. My grandparents reluctantly left their hometowns in the mountains of Western Maryland and stayed away because they “got used to eating three meals a day,” as my grandfather used to say.

Many of the other spiritual role models in my life have also been “stickers,” people who grow roots in the same place for a long time. These have been individuals as well as communities. I’ve grown fond of the Benedictines, monks who make a vow of stability. This summer, I spent a month with Benedictines here in D.C., some of whom have lived in the same community for 50, 60 years. Communities like the Rutba House in Durham, Reba Place Fellowship in Evanston, Illinois, Koinonia Farms in Georgia, Church of the Saviour here in D.C., and many more, have shown that staying in a place is the only way to be a part of the long term good of a community. Staying allows you to grieve when appropriate as well as to truly share in the joys that come to a place. I’m not sure all the communities of people who have stuck around originally thought that’s what they’d do. And certainly not all the members of those communities stuck around forever. But somehow or another, enough people understood their call to be “stickers” in a place and were changed in the process.

Nobody told me, growing up, that stability is something I should strive for. I didn’t consciously seek out role models who told me that. It has been the fruit of stability that I’ve tasted in my parents and dear friends that has inspired me to be a “sticker.”

I just moved to Deanwood. Ever since leaving Durham, I’ve felt unsettled living in D.C. because the neighborhoods I lived in didn’t feel like places I could stay in long term. I left Durham feeling called to help develop Christian community in this city, bringing with me the wisdom of friends at the Rutba House and Richard Rohr. It has not always happened the way I imagined, but steadily, I’ve been pulled to the right places and find myself in a neighborhood I could see myself in for a long time. The day I moved in, I could feel the roots start to sink into the ground in my yard.

I don’t maintain the illusion that staying is always easy, or that it’s a sure path to “making a difference” in a neighborhood. But I’m absolutely certain that it changes us in a manner that can’t be discovered any other way.

I attended a Wendell Berry lecture a few months ago entitled “It all turns on affection.” One of Berry’s main points is that people are able to act for the good of others when they experience affection. Someone may dislike the killing and violence of war, but when a friend or loved one is killed at war, there is a much more profound relationship with the truth of war. Same with place. When we develop affection for the soil, for the land, for the people, we will make decisions that contribute to its long term good. And we can’t develop that affection unless we stick around.

I’m trying. These first days in a new place are exciting and I have a lot of hope. I’m trying to develop affection. Like compost and fertilizer for a plant, affection nourishes our ability to develop strong roots that don’t easily move. I imagine it’s often subtle, affection is. We don’t intend to, but one day we wake up and realize that we’ve been in the same place for 20 years and it just feels right. I hope that I wake up like that one day.

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2 comments

  1. thegentlelight · September 19, 2012

    I’m really intrigued by the idea of feeling settled or unsettled in a place, and how that relates to stability and rootedness. as i learn more about stability i’m finding that it is a value that must be chosen in the right place. But how do we find that right place? Is it a feeling we have deep inside of us? How much is it connected to where we grew up and the idea of sticking to a place?

    Sometimes God takes us to a place that isn’t settling. Sometimes we need to be a little unsettled perhaps. I too greatly value stability and loyalty, but am finding that the place we put our roots in must come through long discernment and deep self understanding and attentiveness to the voice of God.

    I really am drawn to your thoughts on affection and how that may affect those feelings. Thanks for sharing your thoughts Brian, and I look forward to you writing more often.

    • brianjgorman · September 19, 2012

      Hey Luke, thanks for your thoughts.

      I think you’re right that we all need to be a bit unsettled from time to time. Maybe the most healthy situation is one that is simultaneously comfortable and uncomfortable.

      I don’t know how people figure out the right place. Sometimes I think that the right place is where you are. I think stability means cultivating, at the very least, the attitude that whatever place you find yourself, don’t leave it easily.

      It makes sense that stability is something we choose through discernment with God and deeper understanding of ourselves. But I also think that we learn more about ourselves and are able to hear the peculiar voice of God as a result of the place we’re in and we really need to dig in to be conscious of it. The goal is not so much stability as it is knowledge of God, and the wisdom of many is that we move into closer knowledge of God through staying put.

      Great to hear from you, and I look forward to seeing you next week!

      Brian

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