I’m departing from my usual focus on history and children’s literature to review a book I had the opportunity of reading back in the final third of 2017. In my interview with Carmela Martino on her book Playing by Heart, I shared that despite identifying as a mainline Protestant myself, I tend to steer clear of religious publishers, for a variety of reasons, some of which I discussed in my interview with Carmela.
One of those reasons is that I’m a giant nerd and I require a certain level of intellectual rigor in my reading material and a large amount of acknowledgment of things like scientific facts (Climate change is real!) and progressive thinking (Straight cisgender white men are not somehow closer to God than the rest of us!) in my religious life. One publisher that usually ticks these boxes for me is Paraclete Press, so when an opportunity came along to get a free book in exchange for an honest review (That’s what this is!), you can bet I jumped at it.
The title At Home in this Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises drew me first. I had no idea what Jerusalem Jackson Greer’s book was about, but I knew that was where I was. I had just completed (Ha, completed! Physically moved my body and possessions is more like it.) a cross-country move that had come as a complete surprise to me, I was not feeling one bit at home, and I felt like most of my dreams had unraveled.
The book, which is available with an 8-week reading and discussion plan for individuals or groups, is Jerusalem’s memoir of learning to be where she is, something I and many others struggle with (at least according to everyone’s New Year’s resolutions to be more present), by studying the Rule of St. Benedict and Jeremiah 29 in context. Context is key for me in any literary or historical study. I live in The Frozen North now, but I grew up in South Carolina, where people make whole careers out of cutting random Bible verses out of context and out of vinyl and slapping them on anything that will stand still and anyone who is experiencing a crisis. (I am not saying I don’t love you, South Carolina. I am just saying you know that’s true.) As Jerusalem points out, Christians love to smack people experiencing generalized life dissatisfaction with Jeremiah 29:11, (“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”) When I learned in the book that Jerusalem is also not a fan of this band-aid theology, I knew we were kindred spirits.
In that way, anyway. The outward form of Jerusalem’s inner journey toward presence follows the course of her dream of ditching her city home and owning a farm. Through sections titled Going, Staying, Digging In, and Spreading Out, we learn how the dream developed, was deferred, and was finally realized—much later and in different ways than Jerusalem had planned. Jerusalem is also a lifestyle blogger. She is a person who probably knew of the phrase “refresh your mantels” before it appeared in her Facebook feed accompanied by an explanatory picture. She wrote a whole other book called A Homemade Year. It’s about making things, as you might have been able to tell from the title.
These are not things I do. I live most of my life in my own head, as a professional writer and reader. My new house doesn’t even have mantels, so I don’t need to worry about refreshing them. *sighs with relief* I never think about what I’m going to wear in the morning before I put it on, and it would never occur to me to craft when I could be reading. I have never daydreamed about keeping chickens or hanging my laundry in the backyard, though I can see the environmental benefits.
And yet. The lessons of Jerusalem’s journey are transferable, and I think they are transferable whether or not you are a Christian or a crafter. I found reading her book to be like talking to an old and very funny friend. In the last sentence of the introduction, Jerusalem writes,
What follows in these chapters is the story of how everything I thought would make me happy came undone, and then how I found a way to make myself at home in this beautiful, messy, amazingly tender, completely unbalanced life, by imperfectly practicing one spiritual discipline at a time—smack in the middle of raising the kids, mending the sweaters, and burning the bread.
Though I have never mended a sweater, these words called to me. If they call to you, I encourage you to check out At Home in this Life wherever you like to buy books.
Greer, Jerusalem Jackson. At Home in this Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2017. (Paperback, $18.99)