Ever since my brother gave me a copy of Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book during a tumultuous period in my life, Walker Percy has been one of my absolute favorite writers. Percy was without parallel in his keen perception of the modern self's estrangement from itself. He understood the fragmentation and alienation that changes in technology, economics, and morals would bring to American society. What I find so stunning is that Percy arrived at these conclusions and distilled them in his writing at a time when others were just beginning to recognize them. Many of the cultural and social phenomena I study and write about are things that Percy intuitively grasped 30, 40, 50 years ago.

When I finish a Percy book, I tend to read it again and again rather than move on to the next one. But last week I began reading Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World (1971) for the first time. In the span of 50 pages or so, I repeatedly paused to re-read, read aloud, or tweet out poignant passages.

Usually I light up most when Percy hits on what he considered the theme of his literary work, "the dislocation of man in the modern age." But a passage that struck me in Love in the Ruins was when the main character and narrator (Dr. Thomas More) recalled a happier time, before his daughter (Samantha) died and his wife (Doris) left him for a "heathen Englishman."

The best of times were after mass on summer evenings when Samantha and I would walk home in the violet dusk, we having received Communion and I rejoicing afterwards, caring nought for my fellow Catholics but only for myself and Samantha and Christ swallowed, remembering what he promised me for eating him, that I would have life in me, and I did, feeling so good that I’d sing and cut the fool all the way home like King David before the Ark. Once home, light up the charcoal briquets out under the TV transmitter, which lofted its red light next to Venus like a ruby and a diamond in the plum velvet sky. Snug down Samantha with the Wonderful World of Color in the den (the picture better than life, having traveled only one hundred feet straight down), back to the briquets, take four, five, six long pulls from the quart of Early Times, shout with joy for the beauty of the world, sing ‘Finch ‘han dal vino’ from Don Giovanni and ‘Holy God We Praise Thy Name,’ conceive a great heart-leaping desire for Doris, go fetch Doris, whose lip would curl at my proposal but who was nonetheless willing, who in fact now that she thought of it was as lusty as could be, her old self once again, a lusty Shenandoah Valley girl, Apple Queen of the Apple Blossom Festival in Winchester. Lead her by the hand beyond the azaleas where we’d fling ourselves upon each other and fall down on the zoysia grass, thick-napped here as a Kerman rug.
— Walker Percy, "Love in the Ruins" (1971)

So much life and joy in this passage! One could argue that God needn't be a part of someone feeling such deep and abiding love for family and connection with the universe. But here, in Thomas More's case, Percy shows that sharing in the divine life can be the source of immeasurable joy.

(Also, not a bad argument for the Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist.)

As the novel progresses, we see that Thomas More is mostly lost and miserable when he lives apart from God (as a "bad Catholic"). Dr. More slides into a life of drunkenness and womanizing. Though he never stops believing, he cannot be forgiven because he lacks contrition and purpose of abandonment.

As someone whose Christian upbringing was more often dour than ecstatic, it is hard even now for me to imagine that the kind of joy Percy describes here is humanly (or divinely) possible, let alone what God actually intends.

Love in the Ruins is brilliant. Highly recommended, and all the more so if you, like me, have experienced spiritual malaise.