We’ve been reading a book on the writings of St John of the Cross and in one section the author talks about perseverance in the ‘Nomad Culture’. St John was a Spanish Carmelite in the fifteenth century so we were confused by this reference to Nomad Culture – it didn’t sound like he was talking about wandering gypsies, camel caravans or hunter-gatherer tribes.
The author explained the Nomad Culture as the modern tendency to just move on when things get a bit difficult rather than to persevere. He was, of course, referring to the spiritual life and challenged his readers to humbly and faithfully persist in prayer, even when it feels as though our prayers are unanswered or our situation beyond redemption.
Instead of abandoning our pleas, and perhaps also our hope in God, he calls us to wait in stillness and steadfast faithfulness. Often, God’s transformation of our inner lives can only take place when we stop running – from our imperfections, our shame, our history, our weakness.
In the stillness, our spiritual relationship is renewed.
The Nomad Culture is also a threat to our human relationships. Too often we give up on friendships and even familial connections because they have become testing or painful. We know of families where siblings haven’t spoken to each other for decades following an argument that seemed unforgivable at the time. Years later, when whole generations of cousins have grown up without knowing each other, one has to wonder whether the original dispute was worth it.
Likewise, our marriages too are influenced by the Nomad Culture. This is most obvious when one or both spouses abandon it when it becomes difficult or unfulfilling.
Even in solid marriages, we can become ‘nomads’ in our own homes, moving away from each other to our private spaces or our personal preoccupations. We find safe zones and avoid confronting difficult issues. On the surface this can be seen as virtuous – we are, after all, ‘keeping the peace’. If this is a habitual pattern however, we need to ask ourselves if this is avoidance of growth and interpersonal transformation rather than being kind and generous. Are we simply ‘moving on’ to safer pastures rather than cultivating the one we have before us?
In our own marriage, we see this ‘nomadic’ tendency played out in our busyness. There is always something to do: emails to answer, laundry to fold, columns to write! We can move through a day, a week, or a month with such constant restlessness, that we are barely still long enough to connect and really notice each other. As we climb into bed, exhaustion justifies our mutual agreement to postpone until the next day (and the next) that essential couple connect time when we can debrief, regroup and reconnect. When we let this pattern run long enough, our relationship stagnates and trouble is usually not far behind. We need to also recognise that, like in prayer, it is in shared stillness that our marriage relationship is renewed.