I’m convinced that the meaningful life is a life rooted in place.
Paul told the church in Colossae to be “rooted” in Christ (Col. 2:6-7). Sometimes, we take this as being rooted in Christ rather than the place where we are. We resist place as our defining reality.
There’s something to this. We’re Christians first, Colossians, Syrians, Americans and Dridgers second.
But what if the apostle meant that we’re to be rooted in our neighborhoods as Christ is rooted in them — not by happenstance or with a longing to be somewhere else, but as an act of love?
Think of Jesus’ ministry. His work was both local and rural, 30-something years growing up in small-town Nazareth followed by three years ministering in the vicinity. Jesus was not a big traveler. His was a life rooted in place.
One way that we learn to live rooted in place is by cultivating a local spirituality. We praise God where we are. We learn to love the place we’re in and the people around us. Jesus said the heart of the Old Testament Law is loving God and neighbor. Who is my neighbor? *Surprise!* It’s your actual neighbor. It turns out that loving our neighbors will mean caring about the people next door.
Living rooted in place means learning to be authentically present. This is harder than it sounds. Our minds wander off to big and bustling places, to more glamorous places where our lives would really make a difference. It’s all too easy to think that real life is happening somewhere else, out in Facebookland, on someone else’s terms (smarter, hipper, braver). We’re missing out.
Living rooted in place means practicing the art of abiding. Writer William Cavanaugh puts it like this:
“In an economy of hypermobility, we resist not by fleeing, but by abiding.” “The World in a Wafer: A Geography of the Eucharist as Resistance to Globalization,” Modern Theology 15 (1999), 192.
This is what St. Benedict meant when he instructed his monks in the importance of “stability.” Benedict required a “vow of stability” from his monks, right along with vows of poverty and obedience. They were not to monastery-hop, searching for the perfect community of prayer. Their task was to stay put. Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove has brought this into our contemporary moment in his book The Wisdom of Stability: Rooting Faith in a Mobile Culture. He writes,
“Like children stumbling off a merry-go-round, Americans are grasping for something to anchor our lives in a sea of constant change.” (p.10)
Or at least, some of us are. The merry-go-round will give you quite a rush. Not everybody is ready to get off.
But forget the rush. What we really need is time to be in a place, with a people, the years fermenting into affection and joy. We need time to love, and as Mark Twain put it, “Love … is the slowest of all growths.”
That’s what it’s really all about: learning to love a place and a people. That kind of love takes rootedness. And that kind of rootedness takes Christ.
Brad Roth is pastor of West Zion Mennonite Church in Moundridge, Kan. He blogs at The Doxology Project, where this post first appeared.