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.