John 15: 1, 6-17
Today is the feast of St. Matthias, chosen to replace Judas among the twelve apostles. Matthias had been with them since John baptized Jesus in the Jordan. Perhaps he was one of the 70 whom Jesus sent out. Hardly anything is written about him. All we know is Matthias had been with them since Jesus came among them. The apostles selected two candidates. They drew lots thereby choosing Matthias.
The group probably was not seeking a big personality. They already had that in Peter, James, and John. Now they were amid grief as Jesus had ascended back to heaven. I suspect they sought stability. They chose one who had been with them. They trusted Matthias would remain with them. Remaining, staying put through loss and grief, is hard. Our culture increasingly offers and expects mobility frequently adjusting where we live, work, and the kind of work we do.
Someone asked Antony, founder of desert monasticism, “What must one do in order to please God?” Antony said to stay focused on God, live according to Scripture, and “in whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it.”[i]Do not easily leave it. Then and now we are prone to leave. There is a hunger for and wisdom in stability: remain, stick it out, and keep finding God here.
Ancient Israel was an agricultural society. They had vineyards, which take years of dedicated investment and careful cultivation. Isaiah described God’s people as a vineyard in whom God invests by clearing stones, building a watchtower, hewing a wine vat, planting and tending vines.[ii]We hear Jesus say in the Gospel according to John: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower … I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit.[iii]As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”
Abide can mean to live in, to make yourself at home. There’s a gutsy quality to it. Abide also means to remain or to stick with through challenge. Stability is choosing to remain, trusting God to be here. Jesus says the Father stuck with me. I’ll stick with you no matter what. Make yourself at home here. I will never leave you.
We have many reasons for leaving and moving. When we lose who or what we love—our partner, friend, health, home, job, or sense of identity—when we are troubled, we want to move, to flee. Surely the grass is greener or the neighbors nicer in another pasture. Surely life would be better and God would feel closer elsewhere.
Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove wrote: “Stability is a commitment to trust God not in an ideal world, but the battered and bruised world we know. If real life with God can happen anywhere at all, then it can happen here among the people whose troubles are already evident to us.”[iv]
God does invite us at times to leave, to move, and trust provision somewhere new. We are children of Abraham and Sarah, of Moses and Jonah, to whom God said: go. Jesus invited the apostles to leave their nets and tax booths and follow him. God’s call to go and to remain both require trust.
Ancient Israel was devastated when King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, took most of the city captive and moved them far off to Babylon. As exiles in a foreign land, they felt lost and abandoned.
To this grieving group, God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. … multiply there, and do not decrease.”[v]Build. Plant. Multiply. “Make yourself at home.”[vi]
We long for quick fix, pain relieved, challenges resolved, a return to “normal.” Life is not often like that. The healing following loss—including Israel’s major trauma of capture, destruction and relocation—is a slow work.
It’s important to name the pain, what was lost and how that feels. God’s people have the tradition of lament. Psalm 137, rather mournful and vindictive, was written during the exile in Babylon: We sat down and wept. We couldn’t sing because we so missed Jerusalem. And, naturally, we wish Babylon’s children would be dashed against the rocks. That’s an honest, healing prayer, naming wounds, raw as they really are. God invites and listens to us lament.
It is also important to name the new reality after loss. This is the new normal. Build. Plant. Multiply. Invest. Make this home. Abide. God will provide for you here. Both lament and homemaking are active. Benedictine Michael Casey wrote: “Stability comes from the verb stare, to stand. We all know that it is very difficult to remain standing for a long period without moving. The best way to remain upright is not to stay still but to keep walking. … Stability is not immobility. It is the knack of remaining constant in the midst of change.”[vii]
Constancy may be in the daily routines. What are practices through which you make yourself at home? What are your rhythms and routines for health? What are you practices of prayer? They may overlap. They may have to do with cleaning, cooking, children, laundry, gardening, maintenance, exercise, Sabbath, rest, creativity, and music. Homemaking can be sacred healing way to respond to life’s challenges.
Constancy may be connection in and beyond your home. How do you keep investing in relationships? Particularly here “among the people whose troubles are already evident to us.” Perhaps it’s in daily choosing to remain, to keep your vows, to love and to be loved.
Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote that we are “naturally impatient” and encouraged us to “trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.” Remember how God has patiently stuck with you, providing, caring, and tending. Holding onto those memories, that hope, build, invest time and love into ordinary tasks. Keep cultivating relationship with your family and neighbors. God may invite you to move. Until then, keep making yourself at home. As we remember Blessed Matthias, embrace stability trusting God will provide for you here.
[i]Benedicta Ward, trans. (1984) The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, p2 in Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove (2010) The Wisdom of Stability. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, p35.
[vi]Jeremiah 29:5 The Message
[vii]Michael Casey (2005) “Perseverance” in Strangers to the City: reflections on the beliefs and values of The Rule of St. Benedict. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, p191.
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