Where are you from? It's a simple question that, for many of us, has no simple answer. Yet our tendency to pick up and move on – from our homes, as well as from tough moments in our relationships and careers – can leave us feeling rootless and unsettled. Br. Luke Ditewig takes on our culture's increasing mobility, inviting us to embrace instead the transformative power of staying put.
Click on the tabs below to explore the topic of stability through Luke's reflection, suggested practices, reflection questions, and further resources.
Br. Luke on Stability
Listen to the full Stability podcast
Br. Luke Ditewig, SSJE, grew up in Orange County, California, with a camp on Catalina Island like a second home. Welcoming guests here feels like adult silent camp, and he invites playing with prayer. He serves in Cambridge as the Deputy Superior. Luke enjoys creating beautiful spaces with folded napkins and flowers for community celebrations.
Read about Luke's vocational journey to the Monastery >
Finding God Here
“Where have you lived?” seems a better question than “Where are you from?” My own answer includes California, Nebraska, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Our culture is increasingly mobile, on the move, changing. People more often and easily switch where and with whom they live, change place of employment and type of work.
Someone asked Antony, founder of desert monasticism, “What must one do in order to please God?” Antony said to stay focused on God and live according to Scripture, and “in whatever place you find yourself, do not easily leave it.”[i] Antony speaks of a core anxiety and truth: we don’t like to stay with what is hard. We try to flee what troubles us, whether literally or figuratively, and God invites staying present.
We’re tempted to move because of life’s hardships. Surely the grass is greener or the neighbors nicer in another pasture. Surely life would be better and God would be closer elsewhere. All the more in a mobile culture, monasticism offers radical hope with the wisdom of stability: remain and find God here.
Remember vineyards. They take years of careful cultivation. A fruitful vineyard shows perseverance and investment. Ancient Israel was an agricultural society, and scripture illustrates with vineyards how to live together. If you let an animal graze on another’s vineyard, repay from the best of your grapes.[ii] Don’t collect all the grapes. Leave some for aliens, orphans, and widows to glean.[iii]
Isaiah describes God’s people as a vineyard in whom God invests by clearing stones, building a watchtower, hewing a wine vat, planting and tending vines.[iv] In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine grower … Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.”[v]
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. Jesus says the Father stuck with me. I’ll stick with you no matter what.[vi] It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, what you have or what you lack. I will never leave you. Make yourself at home. Keep your routines. I am with you no matter what.
New monastic Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove writes: “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.”[vii] Life, including in community, tempts us to flee, but together with our wounds we come to know and be known by Jesus and each other. Choosing to abide, to stick it out with each other, is choosing to trust God.
Loss bruises us such that remaining seems like a broken dream. We intended to remain, but we lost our beloved spouse or friend or house or job or health or sense of God. As life shatters us, our tendency is to flee, seeking what we lost or something better.
In the Bible, God’s people experienced devastation. King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, took most of the city captive and moved them far away to Babylon. They lived as exiles in a foreign land. Lost, displaced, and feeling abandoned.
To this grieving group, the prophet Jeremiah brings this message from God: “Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease.”[viii] Build. Plant. Marry. Multiply. Invest here. This is the new normal. Settle in. Be patient. Create routines. “Make yourself at home.”[ix] Abide. God will provide for you here.
Wisdom is often depicted as a ladder rooted on earth ascending upward to heaven. To climb on the spiritual journey, one also needs to stay put, remain grounded.[x] We also keep moving, not inert clinging to one rung of the ladder. Stability is both grounded and moving.
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.”[xi] 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? It may have to do with cleaning, cooking, children, laundry, gardening, maintenance, exercise, Sabbath, rest, creativity, music. What particularly nurtures you? Slow down and invest time in that. Pay attention. Savor. Pray as you clean and fold. Homemaking can be sacred healing way to respond to life’s challenges.
Jesuit Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote that we are “naturally impatient” and encourages us to “trust in the slow work of God, our loving vine-dresser.” Remember how God has patiently stuck with you, providing, caring, tending. Likewise plant. Abide. Make yourself at home.
From what are you tempted to flee? What would it look like to trust God 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.
[ii] Exodus 22:5
[iii] Deuteronomy 24:21
[iv] Isaiah 5:1-7
[v] John 15:1, 4
[vi] John 15:9
[vii] Wilson-Hartgrove, p24
[viii] Jeremiah 29:5-6
[ix] Jeremiah 29:5 The Message
[x] Wilson-Hartgrove, p46
[xi] 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.
So true – I think about moving to another country where everything seems lovelier…but I will be moving myself – with the same concerns, uncertainties and troubles. Staying where you are planted and trying to be more fruitful is infinitely more life giving and still signals change. Elizabeth Hardy+
This deep and insightful post leaves me wondering how to discern when stability has become stagnation. I wonder about this in the context of a difficult, chronic, long-lasting church situation. How can one tell whether one is overstaying a place, or routine, and when one is “easily leaving it”? That’s a good thing for me to ponder.
John: Change. It is never too late. You are never too old. I am 83 and in the last six months I changed my denomination (back to my earlier one from birth until 20 years ago, the reason being that we moved to a new place in 1966 and there was no Presbyterian church in that village.) For a while I had a foot in two places while I became sure that the time had come to move. I am more blessed and joyous than I have been for a long time. It was not an easy decision, it was not easy after I had reached that decision. Some friends were very supportive about my switch; others met my news with silence, which left me wondering whether I had made the right decision. But I know that it was a change I was being offered by the God who surrounds us with love. Christina
Beautiful reflection on stability
This is lovely and useful in my life today. Thank you for the words of inspiration. ps I love this new format!
Welcome wisdom, coming to me in the early weeks of a challenging Intentional Interim ministry. I will continue to abide, and try not to do all the vine dressing in the first three months!