Tuesday Book Report: Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove’s The Wisdom of Stability

“This is a book about staying put and paying attention.”  So begins Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove in the introduction of his new book, The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture, published by Paraclete Press.   And he makes a very good point aboutwhy staying put and putting down roots are very important for not just reasons of faith but also for the vitality and strength of a community, both the geographical one and the community of faith, and for family.   Wilson-Hartgrove challenges the assumptions, the spiritual, and the human assumptions, of mobility and all its attendant aspects as he has the reader to reconsider the value “of staying put and paying attention.” Six chapters in length, with some very important personal stories woven in between the chapters, Wilson-Hartgrove believes that “stability’s wisdom insists that spiritual growth depends on human beings rooting ourselves in a place on earth with each other.”   While I enjoyed the entire book, I found chapter 5 “Midday Demons” aimed at the heart of what I consider the heart of our need for stability, both in place, and in soul as Wilson-Hartgrove addresses; using the language of the church fathers and their desert experience, and the language of acedia the ancient term describing a state of restlessness; the demons of boredom and ambition. They are both demons that I have, and continue to, personally wrestle with.   In calling attention to the fact that ambition can make “an activity as banal as Web surfing can seem more exciting than conversation with a friend or neighbor,” the author makes clear that “the mundane tasks of daily life is the process by which we exorcise ambition and grow in love.” To make a difference then, we must learn to exercise the wisdom of stability that requires “for each of us to do the knitting of life together with God’s people.”   With regard to boredom, which I think is a major spiritual issue these days, Wilson-Hartgrove says that it “invites us to adopt a carelessness that exhibits nearly opposite symptoms.” Symptoms that cause one to lose our zeal and, in contrast to ambition which “pushes us toward perpetual motion,” boredom, he notes, leaves “us unable to love our neighbors or even take care of our own basic needs.”   The solution? Get your body moving! Plant, sow, weed, reap a garden of some kind. Get off the couch! Do something with your body!   The point of all this is a mission of stability which Wilson-Hartgrove notes “is not to assume that we will change our neighbors and the broken places where we are if we only can muster the resolve to stick it out. Rather, it is to acknowledge that there is good news in this place-stability that we might not have seen at first, but without which we could not even begin. If God is faithful in exile and present in human flesh, then everything-every place-is now holy. We learn to enjoy the fruit of stability as we embrace God’s mission where we are.” (Italics his.)   I have been in my present place of ministry for over a decade. And it is in a small-town environment that has the privilege (and challenge) of living close to people. The Wisdom of Stability has given me a new perspective on my time here especially when Wilson-Hartgrove quotes from Jeremiah 29, the same passage I quoted to a group of community persons that I trained several years ago to do a county wide discussion on student achievement. Place matters.   You will not find an outline of how to create stability (that could lead to the rise of ambition) nor will you find ways to combat boredom (that is dealt within the context of everyday life) but you will be called to stay put and pay attention because the wisdom of stability “cannot be reduced to a quick fix for the spiritual anxiety of a placeless people. It is a process. It takes time.”   Note: I received a complimentary electronic copy of this book via The Englewood Review of Books, http://erb.kingdomnow.org/, in exchange for a review. I was not required to write a positive review.

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