I try not to say this too often or too loudly, especially out of recognition and respect of those whose lives are very different, but I have actually loved staying home these last months. Despite what most people seem to think, being a childless spinster has a great many benefits—and one of them is already being used to spending a good deal of time alone. I relished getting rid of the many “shoulds” in my life, being able to focus on work (of which, with the shift to online teaching, there was a boatload), and enjoying the quiet and comforts of home.

I was feeling especially grateful one morning not long ago. My living room/dining room combination features a cathedral ceiling, and in the dining room, a very large window stretches from floor to ceiling. Through the window, I can see a lovely garden and, unfolding beyond, the street opposite in our peaceful little neighborhood. The woman who lived in my condo before me planted an incredible array of flowers, so throughout the summer I have a succession of gorgeous blooms.

Facing eastward, the window is also the portal of the sun, which that particular morning was positively cascading into my dining room. In response, I began to have what the 19th century writers I study might have called a positive revelry. Everything struck me as just delightful: my house, the morning, the garden, the whole dang day ahead. Now I tend towards the Tiggerish anyway, but my prayers that morning were joyfully exuberant—thanking God for seen and unseen, the wonders through my window and all the other gifts of friends and family and all good things.

And then, it happened. Just as a line from Wordsworth—“all that we behold is full of blessing” (apologies, but in truth, one of the hazard of being an English professor is that bits of poetry and snatches from novels are often at the ready in one’s head) flitted through my mind, something else appeared in the window. You see, my window overlooks not only a beautiful garden, but also the road that winds through mine and the adjunct condo developments. The sidewalk in front of my house, therefore, is often full of folks out with dogs and friends or simply alone for the daily constitutional.

That “something else” was an all-campus colleague, sauntering along, who drives me sort of nuts. A person who has been mean to friends, is exasperating to deal with—not really in my Top 20 favorites, let’s say. Definitely not someone who was making the Happy Summer Morning Praise to Jesus list.

I burst out laughing. God’s sense of humor was impeccable, as always. Seriously: “All that we behold is full of blessing”? Oh really, Miss Merry Sunshine? All?

Maybe I’ve enjoyed the quarantine because I’ve had the luxury of not having to deal with people up close. It’s easy to love the world in the abstract through the glass of a window (or of a computer screen). I can’t say that it hasn’t been a nice break—but it’s bad spiritual practice.

At the heart of Christianity, after all, is dealing with people, the embodying of Christ’s love. It’s always easier to not love our neighbor—our real neighbor, not some theoretical one. To not engage in a Christ-like way with all their unloveliness and annoyingness and wrong-headedness, even as we struggle to remember our identical condition (often an even more difficult task). Easier to stay in the happy sunlight of our own sweet spaces, spaces we control and in which we feel comfortable.

But the challenge in these coming weeks and months, whether it’s virtual spaces where we’re increasingly living or when we emerge back into physical ones, will be to engage well–to resist sticking with our side of the polarization, staying in our own spiritual hermitages. We may need to get back in practice, perhaps, but how we love our neighbor will remain the true measure of our witness.

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids, a city I've come to love. I count myself rich in friends and family. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” I don't have the car anymore, but the sentiment is still true.

10 Comments

  • RLG says:

    Well said, Jennifer. I really liked this. So, so many blessings in life!

  • Ginny K. says:

    This hit home, as I’ve had similar experiences. Thanks for the reflection.

  • Thomas Hoeksema Sr. says:

    I love everything in this piece, dear Jennifer, and especially “tend towards the Tiggerish.”

  • Jon Lunderberg says:

    Jennifer, thank you for sharing a perspective different from mine. As more extroverted person, cooped up at home, I put daily signs in my front yard to get walkers to slow down – I want to see people for more than ten seconds as they pass by. The signs started with Dad Jokes and follow my mood. I’ve flowed into MLK, Ghandi, Will Rogers quotes, and even COVID-19. “COVID-19 Day 58: Now I understand why dogs chew furniture!” Thanks for sharing your appreciation working remotely and giving me a fresh way of appreciating it.

    • George Vink says:

      Any thoughts or conclusions yet, Jon, regarding your observing the readers of your “jokes” or arresting signs? ie a disgusted look if you’ve repeated yesterday’s “observation.”?

  • Cathy Smith says:

    I LOVED this. I also enjoy staying home. Thank you for this delightful post. A blessing to me.

  • Carolyn Biggs says:

    Thank you Jennifer. Your words encourage important reflection.

  • Henry Baron says:

    You resonated with me all the way – thanks Jennifer!

  • Dale Hulst says:

    Huzzah, huzzah! I have similar experiences in my easy chair (a gift I think of as my healing chair because I spent many days in it a few years back following hospitalizations). Sitting there looking out my west-facing window with the late afternoon sun pouring though the blinds, I can feel like all is right with the world.

  • Debra K Rienstra says:

    I love the thought of you having a 19th century positive revelry! Delightful. Love all of this. Reminds me of the time I grumbled and spat under my breath at a speaker who later ended up serving me communion. I could tell, at that moment, that God was winking and laughing at me.

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