Homebodies

Walker Percy’s work flowed strangely. What he really wanted to do was write academic articles. So he’d sit in his study in Louisiana drawing diagrams about language and selfhood, trying to write erudite essays. Pretty often, he got depressed about his work. (That’s something I can identify with.) So he’d write a great American novel. Don’t you wish you could be so skillfully depressed, so competently despondent, that you just had to write an award-winning novel? In any case, his novels earned critical acclaim, while his essays showed up in obscure journals read by some, appreciated perhaps by few.

I’m interested in his pattern of possibly misguided effort followed by fruitful depression. He often described such patterns as ways of being in the world. The moviegoer, for example, was someone whose efforts in everyday business and schooling had been emptied of meaning. So this lost person goes to the movies to strategically attempt to reinfuse the everyday with significance. Percy also talked about this hollowed-out life in terms of castawayness–a more hopeful figure who is always looking for what Percy called a Piece of News from Beyond the Seas. In some of Percy’s stories, he played with the figure of the hermit who leaves the wreckage of society in order to draw closer to God.

But of late, I’ve been thinking about another sort of ethos—not one that Percy ever made much of, but one that might resonate with you. And that’s the comportment of the homebody. I’m stealing this term from Jess Timmermans, who commended the word when I asked for a term in yesterday’s honors seminar for a dweller or householder. I was thinking about Psalm 90: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations” and John 15 where Jesus goes on and on about abiding.

What do you think about “homebody” as a way of being in the world? My sense is that it’s a slightly less gendered term than the ones that Percy puts forward. The word also reminds me of Wendell Berry’s account of economics as caring for a household. And then, of course, there’s all that biblical imagery about dwelling. Richard Foster says that one strong unifying theme throughout Holy Scripture is that the Triune God desires to dwell with mortals. Is that what Jesus enacts for the Godhead—the divine urge to be homebody among us?

I wonder where you are in the workflow of the semester. Are you at that stage where you are, like Percy, hopeful to draft an academic paper or two? I’m with you on that. Or are you leery of a despondency that sets in when the essay reading and composition begins to hollow out? Does it help at all if you see your work in the classroom and the library, in chapel and in the dorm room, on the field and in the gym as a mode of dwelling? Does it help to see that blank Word document as a kind of prayed space with God and others? Does it help to see the mileage your coach calls you to run or the res-life Bible study you’re trying to populate or the certifying exam you’re preparing for as a way of finding your place in the very household of God?

As Percy might say, it’s difficult to say. Some questions have to be indwelt.

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3 comments on “Homebodies

  1. Alissa VW says:

    I get the point here (I think), but I can’t get over the fact that when I think of “homebody” I automatically jump to the conclusion that a homebody is boring, they’re not curious, they’re satisfied without having seen or done all they maybe should or could do and see, and on top of that they lead a unfortunately sedate lifestyle. Maybe I’m misinterpreting the word, just as “introvert” can be misinterpreted.

    The questions you ask in the last paragraph are helpful for me because my homebody tendencies are maybe not as well-developed as in other people but it helps me realize that even when my physical place of dwelling tends to be short-term that it still can be active and adventurous (right?) while part of dwelling long-term in God’s household. As far as looking at the semester’s work, it seems almost more helpful to think of this as a temporary “semester abroad, except not” in which I want to make the most out of it and learn a lot, rather than just another day at home…so maybe I’m getting to the same level of involvement on campus as a “homebody” would get to dwelling in the world but just thinking about it in a different way.

  2. Karen Dieleman says:

    I have long considered myself a homebody but have not thought about my sheer contentment with being at home as a potential posture for being in the world as well. I’m dwelling in that thought, though. I think, Alyssa, that I’m not incurious, though sedate is, unfortunately, too accurate, and boring, well, I’ll leave others to say. When I call myself a homebody, I mean that I have no urge to run about, to socialize, to shop, to attend this and that, especially after a full day of work, but even on weekends or in summers. I simply like being home. What do I like about it? Mostly, I like quiet. I like conversation with my husband. I like following my own mind to see where it goes (sometimes not very far, sadly). I like talking to God at odd moments about the sun coming in the living room window, or about the young man in Ecuador whose picture sits above my kitchen sink, or about what my sister in heaven might be doing, now that my aunt is also there. Might being a homebody mean having the mental and emotional space to commune with others in reflective ways at unplanned but always available moments? If so, it might be an ethos for dwelling in the world after all. One I could be more intentional about.

  3. Ethan says:

    This word is probably way off the mark, but “keeper” is what strikes me, at this moment, as most appropriate, I think about what denotes Biblical ownership and often what is our sense of ownership (rather than the U.S. Law’s definition), which, to me, is often that the person that keeps a place in order is actually practicing ownership (ex: a city giving a distressed or otherwise abandoned property over to people who exercise ownership on that bit of land). That sort of keeping can occur anywhere–not exclusively in a home.

    I think now about how God ‘keeps’ the universe (He holds together its very fabric from what I hear), and in doing–in keeping it ordered–He claims ownership. No one else can do that for the entire universe, and in having placed us on the Earth His call then is simply that we exercise the same sort of ownership of what He has gifted to us through ordering our lives after His Word and Law made incarnate.

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