I was recently ambling along a path between woods and the edge of a small lake when I noticed something unusual. A bright spot of magenta pink caught my eye, so I hiked up the hill to investigate. At the top of the rise a weed-infested flower bed, edged in half-buried moldering bricks, appeared to have been set out years ago. Amid the tangled vines and mounded leaves, a scrappy rose bush had managed to thrust a few spindly arms up toward the sun. Half a dozen blossoms in various arrays of bloom nodded above the abandoned bed, a surprising burst of color in an otherwise forlorn place.
Glancing around I recalled the building that used to occupy this side of the hill was a living residence for independent elders. The residents were able to keep this area as a garden spot. The beds had been filled with a jumble of flowers and shrubs, bird baths and feeders, and the air quivered with the gentle jangle of wind chimes. Occasionally I would see the residents bent over and slowly making their way among the plants, tending and watering, oblivious to everything but the flowering Eden around them.
That was years ago, and I recalled how the building had been demolished and the bits and pieces hauled off or raked into smoldering piles that left dark circles in the once tidy lawn. Now there was no trace of this place, the footprint of a homeplace once alive with quiet activity had become a vacant hillside at the edge of a new development.
Sadly, I remembered the verse from Psalm 103:16, “…the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” Yet here the sturdy little rose bush that someone had once cared for was a vibrant reminder of the way of memory, the persistence of love planted and rooted in time.
Within his rule, St. Benedict established guidelines that encouraged stability, the importance of remaining steadfast in place and remaining within a particular community for the duration of one’s life. Today many of us frequently move and find we have no roots in any particular place. A community becomes what one makes of establishing and maintaining relationships despite location, regardless of where one happens to be living. Home has become virtual and mobile, a transient undertaking, yet the longing for putting down roots is evident in our epidemically fearsome loneliness and need for connection with one another and the natural world.
Trends in housing, architecture, and design tend toward stark applications of black and white, hard lines, and minimalist spaces reminiscent of industrial environments. This makes me wonder about the direction our hearts are moving in. Conversely, parks and outdoor spaces have become meccas for those longing for the embrace of nature, the complexities and wonder found in the natural world.
Perhaps stability has more to do with how we reach out to and keep one another close, and how we find a way to root ourselves and bloom despite the changes around us. Even Jesus found it necessary to move from place to place and his head lay on a different pillow nearly every night. Occasionally he would find himself in Bethany, among his closest friends, a stable home, a familiar table, his roots sunk deep in the ground of communion, a shared fellowship of love.
By Noel Poston, Oblate OSB