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A Review of
At Home in this Life:
Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises
Jerusalem Jackson Greer
Paperback: Paraclete Press, 2017
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Reviewed by Sara Sterley
My husband and I lived in “little boxes suburbia” (a la the intro song to the television show Weeds) for ten years, spending countless hours scouring real estate listings for some property that we could turn into a small farm that was within our price range, expending plenty of angry energy toward the neighbors that complained about us not using chemicals on our lawn and turning over much of it to gardens, repeatedly trying to tell ourselves to be happy where we were planted. And then, one day, we found the home and land, if not of our dreams, at least about at that intersection of where our price range, desired location, and dreams met. There might have been lightning and trumpets sounding in the way we have told the story since. But At Home in this Life: Finding Peace at the Crossroads of Unraveled Dreams and Beautiful Surprises is not one of those stories, and I found it all the more refreshing because it wasn’t.
At Home in this Life opens similarly to my story above. Speaker, author, and minister, Jerusalem Jackson Greer explains how she and her husband felt the call to a more rural sort of life. According to Greer, “I was living a life that I didn’t want. I was living in a house that I didn’t want to have. I was burned out, exhausted, and weary, and every edge of my being was frayed beyond recognition.” Greer and her family find a farm for sale that sounds perfect, only to lose it due to a tough housing market. But instead of jumping into the search for a new dream farm to fulfill their agrarian dreams, Greer decides, albeit a bit begrudgingly, to discover how to be “at home in this life,” endeavoring to find contentment in their existing home, careers, and larger family life.
In her search to find this peace, Greer finds comfort in the Rule of St. Benedict and Jeremiah 29, exploring the various similar themes that run through the Rule and Jeremiah 29 and incorporating them into their life as a family. “Self-pity and entitlement were littered throughout my soul,” Greer notices, “and I was exhausted from the mess. I needed a serious spring-cleaning of the soul. I needed a tactile way to practice Being Here instead of languishing in my desire to Be There.”
In this year of Being Here, as Greer calls it, she shares stories about the seemingly mundane ways that she is learning to be at home in her life: stories about laundry, painting the house, cleaning up the yard for a garden, marital spats. At the end of most of the chapters, Greer offers a recipe or practical tip related to the main theme of the chapter. She weaves in her musings about what she is learning with the very practical, leaving the reader with a sense of the lofty all mixed in with the ordinary, just like real life.
Greer finds, in the end, that the school of contentedness exists right here in our day-to-day routines. As Kathleen Norris writes, “We want life to have meaning, and want to be fulfilled, and it is hard to accept that we find these things by starting where we are, not where we would like to be. Our greatest spiritual blessings are likely to reveal themselves not in exotic settings but in everyday tasks and trials.”
At Home in this Life is a book for our times, helping us to see that our lives aren’t meant to be lived constantly looking around the corner for what’s next. We all have our own versions of Greer’s farm dreams that we are clinging to, thinking that our lives will be better and happier when we get “there.” Jesus himself is repeatedly teaching us to stay in the present moment, most succinctly in Matthew 6:34: “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” In a tiny endnote that Greer shares near the close of the book, she mentions that their family did in fact finally find their farm, but I loved that she made this a footnote instead of tying up her story too neatly, leaving the reader with the feeling that the lessons learned throughout her year of being “at home in this life” were far more valuable than their family’s original farming dreams.
In At Home in this Life, Greer writes about her own journey vulnerably and honestly, encouraging the reader to look at her own life in a similar way. Greer isn’t judgmental, but is instead a gentle guide, showing us the fruit of this type of living as the book progresses. In what has become a sort of mantra for me personally, Wendell Berry says, “what we need is here,” and At Home in this Life is a practical handbook for embodying that ancient wisdom that Berry, Jesus, St. Benedict, and many other wise teachers throughout the centuries have been trying to teach us.