Bluebirds and tree swallows raise their young in a house. But though they make a nest, they don’t make a home. Humans make homes. A home is a house where humans make a life together. A home is a physical place distinct from all others precisely because it is the place of daily human life. And so perhaps other than a place of worship (which might be called God’s house), it is the most special place in material creation.
As a bird watcher and bird-helper (having learned from my father to make bird houses, and more importantly, to manage those houses for the birds’ good), I smile when people speak of birds ‘living’ in my nesting boxes. For these nesting boxes are just that: a place for birds to make a nest to raise their young. Yes, it is true, in winter they might sometimes use the box for shelter (actually, just the bluebirds, the tree swallows are warm in Mexico), but to say they ‘live’ in them is a misnomer. They use them as a space to raise young until the babies can fly; they and their young live in the great outdoors.
Human persons are different. We don’t just need a place for shelter. We need a place fitted for the ordinary and so natural ways that humans share a life. Eating together, working together, playing together, resting together. It’s always about much more than just staying alive; it’s about progressively coming alive in deeper ways, especially in and through our relationships.
And this includes how this house interfaces with the earth, that is, the soil and the plants that grow from it. Look at the ‘garden’ or ‘outdoor’ center at the local hardware store right now. We naturally feel that part of what we do at home is arrange our outdoor, physical surroundings.
Wendell Berry’s Hannah Coulter, reflecting on the home or place she and her husband made together says, “The place doesn’t care if you love it. But for your own sake you had better love it. For the sake of all else you love, you had better love it.” She goes further, suggesting that love of place is part of marriage:
Now I know what we were trying to stand for…: the possibility that among the world’s wars and sufferings two people could love each other for a long time, until death and beyond, and could make a place for each other that would be a part of their love, as their love for each other would be a way of loving their place.
Making a place together is part of how a husband and wife love each other. And their children. This is a gift. It is a gift we need to rediscover. We have lost many of the ordinary practices and ways of making a place and loving a place. Elsewhere I have given specific suggestions for a threefold stewardship plan, in conserving, beautifying, and fructifying. The term ‘stewardship’ should not imply some sort of peripheral project. Stewardship is a way of life that is at the heart of making a home, making our particular place in the world. It especially calls for reintroducing practices of work: work that is soul-and-body enhancing, relationship-growing, and life-giving.
No particular place will last forever. Yet precisely the immortal aspect of human life calls for investing our particular place with profound significance. It’s not that we live here as though we’re never leaving. But we do live here as though everything that happens right here today, and tomorrow and the next day, has everlasting echoes. And all the energy, all the love we invest in this place, carefully bestowed, will never have been wasted. For building a home, building our place right here and now, is precisely how we humans build something that truly lasts.
This weeks VIDEO: continuing the GOOD NEWS series, on Tree Swallows:
Image: Carl Larsson’s home in Sweden.
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Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.