The fourth kind of monks are those called Gyrovagues. These spend their whole lives tramping from province to province, staying as guests in different monasteries for three or four days at a time. Always on the move, with no stability, they indulge their own wills . . . . Of the miserable conduct of all such it is better to be silent than to speak. Passing these over, therefore, let us proceed, with God’s help, to lay down a rule for the strongest kind of monks, the Cenobites. – – The Rule of St Benedict
In the first chapter of the Rule of Benedict (a source of spiritual wisdom since the 6th Century) describes “four kinds of monastics,” two of which he swiftly denounces as phonies: “Gyrovagues” and “Sarabaites”. Gyrovagues get a harsh judgement, not simply because Benedict disliked their behavior, but because of their nature as wanderers who have “no stability”–in contrast to the Cenobite (ie, those living “in monasteries under a rule and an abbot”). Stability is a major theme in the rule–it is both a vow made and a virtue practiced, and in many ways it is what community depends on.
Over one thousand years later, the value of stability in contrast to societal norms has become ever more precious. In the 1970s the prophetic economist E.F. Schumacher wrote a very different book: Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, but it was one that similarly but high value on stability. Schumacher clearly and poignantly described the human and ecological effects of the modern, globalized economy–one bent on the faulty premise of unlimited, continual growth. He called this the “idolatry of giantism,” and described how it was made possible by rapid changes in technology, specifically in transportation and communications. All of this “has one immensely powerful effect,” Schumacher said, “it makes people footloose.” As footloose, highly mobile people, we became less attentive to the degradation of our land, and less attentive to the needs of those around us. Since Schumacher’s time, our society has continued on its path toward hyper-mobility, and consequently, the more connected we are through technology, the less connected we are with the places we inhabit.
My internship at Koinonia Farm ended on February 1 of this year, and I went from Americus to Savannah, GA, to Boone, NC, to Nashville, TN, to Hickman, KY. After ten days, I went back to Todd, NC, and stayed until early April (originally planning to move to a farm where I was going to work, but I discovered that it was not a good place for me). I went two hours south to Vale, NC, to try out another farm, then east to Wilmington, NC, then back to Todd (to interview for the Blackburn house). I stayed at the house a week, then stayed a few miles away to a farm outside West Jefferson for three weeks. Then it was back to Savannah for ten days, and back to Koinonia for two weeks. After my sojourn at Koinonia, I headed north, visiting Atlanta, Athens, and WIlmington again, before finally moving back to Todd.
I left my internship at Koinonia hoping to find a place to find rootedness and stability, and unintentionally become a gyrovague.
My study and my experience taught me a deep need for it culturally, economically, and spiritually. I’ve felt a longing for it since my time in Mission Year, where I first learned its value. Yet it was withheld from me, as circumstances made me into a sojourner.
In all of this traveling, I kept coming back to Todd and to the Blackburn House, and in all of my thinking about rootedness, I’ve been very conscious of how connected it is to rural places and communities. As Schumacher and others have shown, rural places have suffered from the unchecked growth, as their population and resources are funneled into the cities, which have far surpassed a sustainable size.
So now I’m here, committed to a year, which in this seeking of stability may seem counter to the goal. But while I’m here, I intend to be here. My experience thus far living in community has taught me much about being present as a practice. What I’m hoping for now is not just that, but greater wisdom in extending that practice of presence wider into the town and land where I’m dwelling: to be here in Todd, in rural Southern Appalachia.
What does it mean to live faithfully in a rural place? This is a question I hope to pursue in the coming year, as I settle and extend my roots.