When I read fiction I am often searching for stories that articulate the nuances of what it means to live with faith and doubt. Often fiction can reveal with far more clarity than other genres, what it means to wrestle with how we shape a life. A few weeks ago I picked up two small novellas, each less than 200 pages, A Psalm for the Wild Build (Bookshop | Amazon) and A Prayer for the Crown Shy (Bookshop | Amazon) by Beck Chambers.
In these two books Chambers creates a world on a moon in which Sibling Dex, a tea monk, encounters Mosscap, a robot descendant from the robots who departed civilization generations ago to live in the wild, apart from the destruction of humans. When Mosscap wanders out of the wilderness to check in with the human race, he asks a single question: what do humans need? Sibling Dex, having abandoned monastic life in the city for that of a tea monk traveling from rural town to town, struggles to answer that question for himself, let alone for Mosscap. And so the two set off to find the answer amongst the many human settlements Sibling Dex serves tea.
What unfolds is a gentle story about vocation, calling, identity and burnout. There are a lot of think-pieces and books about burnout floating around in the ether. They offer sharp critiques of the crushing nature of late stage capitalism and a wide range of advice that often place the responsibility on, well, the burned out to fix a system made to burn people out. This is not that kind of book, instead set in the lush landscape of Panga, these two books explore questions around what makes a good life and what we need to survive and thrive.
One of the things that I appreciate about this book is the context of sibling Dex being a seasoned monk on his second iteration of his career. I think there’s something unique about asking questions about vocation in the middling part of one’s life. There’s a sense of knowing one’s self and making sense of vocational restlessness that Chambers captures well in her characters.