Think very long about what it takes to feel as much at home as possible in the world, and you’ll realize it gets complicated. Because the longing for a home is central to our nature as humans, it touches everything we do. Whether we know it or not, the restless search for a place to put down our burdens and be known permeates every aspect of our lives.
The implications of this desire for a home stretch from the inward and psychological outward toward the cosmic. To be at home requires us to practice those habits of will and mind that shape our character and make us capable of happiness. To be at home means knowing where we stand and what gives us meaning in the vast expanses of time and space.
Writing about so basic a question means never running out of material. Possible topics are endless. A narrow focus on the question “What does it mean to be at home in the world?” throws open the door to the wild outside.
As with any project with potential to move in myriad directions, it is helpful to set out first to bring some order to the data. Here are the primary ingredients I see as necessary for a sense of being as much at home in the world as possible. All of these are fair game for future posts on this blog.
An Ordered Inner Life
To be as much at home in the world as possible means accepting reality as it is. Accepting reality as it is means cultivating those habits which best work to maximize the quality of our lives, our relationships, and our contributions to our communities. The fruit yielded by that cultivation we call character.
Lots of things can disorder our inner lives. They tend in that direction naturally. The mess gets worse when we allow the weeds of greed, and lust and anger to grow unchecked. But, others’ actions too can sow disorder in us. Abuse, carelessness and the irresponsibility of those around us can throw us into internal chaos. We will never build for ourselves an approximate home until we seek remedy for those ills.
Except for strong personal character, nothing is as essential to a sense of being at home in the world as strong relationships. Relationships, ranging from the most intimate to the most abstract, from spouse to fellow citizen, go a long way to creating that sense of security we associate with home. The relationships that go into building a home aren’t just with the living. To be at home with the world, we need a sense of our history, of tradition, of our place in a long line of relatives. Such relationships, in all their facets, must be examined and understood in any attempt to know the meaning of our homeward longings.
Wealth and its pursuit can be a distraction, but in order for us to be at home, somebody’s got to pay the bills. In a world where employer loyalty is a thing of the past and where everyone’s a freelancer, finding a way to pay the bills is increasingly at odds with a search for home. Changes in technology, though in some ways disruptive of our efforts, have yielded the benefit of making entrepreneurship a more realistic option for many people. Owning a small business, practicing a craft that helps pay the bills, may once again be an essential ingredient for making a home.
Comfort and Beauty
You don’t need a mansion, but you do need to keep the refrigerator clean. Just as an ordered inner life is necessary for being at home in the world so is an ordered outer life. Home is a place to rest, to escape that chaos of the outside world. You can’t do that if the home itself is chaos. People need comfortable chairs, warm fires, and good books. Comfort and beauty are not wastes. They are necessities.
All of this has got to be going somewhere. The joys and sorrows of our lives have to stretch beyond themselves. All this beauty has got to be pointing us somewhere. The sense of homelessness is particularly acute in our time because ultimate questions are regarded with indifference or treated as unanswerable. If we desire to make a home in the world, this won’t do. Ultimate questions must be faced and answered as best as our finite selves are capable.
These five things seem to me the essential ingredients for an approximate home. Developing them and tying them together is the work of life. Get started.
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