Returning thanks for Wendell Berry...

On and off for the past 10 years I have been paying more and more attention to Wendell Berry - one of the true American saints and prophets - and of late I've been in a total Berry groove.  Daughter number two turned me on to his insights over the years - she continues to be my inspiration in matters integrating spirituality, care for the earth and politics - so I eventually found my way to his poetry. 

It seems that this is where my heart first becomes engaged - in poetry, art or music - and if the art ring true here, then I let it lead me into a more careful and studied listening.  Berry's "sabbath poems," for example, speak to me on many levels.  A Timbered Choir spans 20 years, but reflects his 40 year habit of walking the land every Sunday and listening for the wisdom of the Lord in the earth.  The first poem in the book from 1979 reads:

I go among the trees and sit still.
All my stirring becomes quiet
around me like circles of water.
My tasks lie in their places
where I left them, asleep, like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes
and lives a while in my sight.
What it fears in me leaves me,
and the fear of me leaves it.
It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.
I live for a while in its sight.
What I fear in it leaves it,
and the fear of it leaves me.
It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,
mute in my consternations,
I hear my song at last,
and I sing it. As we sing,
the day turns, the trees move.

Oh does this speak to my soul!  It resonates with slowing down.  It encourages being tender and vulnerable.  And it affirms my spiritual hope that trusting in the Lord brings both rest and a renewal of strength.  Another poem, from 15 years later, puts it like this:

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You h ave become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

Perfect, yes?  "Every day you have less reason NOT to give yourself away."  A few weeks ago the current copy of DISSENT found it's way into my life as well as Berry's new book, What Matters?  And because it is true that when the student is ready the Buddha will appear, I am loving his reflections.  When asked, "Are you a socialist?" he replies:

From what I've read and heard, socialism and communism have been just as committed to industrial principles as capitalism. My own inclination is not to start with a political idea or theory and think downward to the eland and the people, but instead to start with the land and the people, the necessity for harmony between local ecosystems and local economies and think upward to conserving policies... (You see) you have to prefer to have a neighbor (in my worldview) than just owning your neighbors farm.

Later, in his collection of essays, he adds:  "Our system of education until now has had only one major: Upward Mobility. Now... a second major needs to be added, and the name of that major will be Homecoming." It would seem that Berry advocates helping us reclaim a sense of being connected with the land, with our souls, with our neighbors, with time and with God's grace. 

Today I celebrated Eucharist with a small group of friends who listened for God's word in Psalm 147 - especially this verse: Our Lord is great, with limitless strength;  we'll never comprehend what he knows and does. It was a quiet celebration - resting in God's grace rather than our wisdom - a time to honor the love and trust. Later I shared a conversation with others in our church who are trying to help their families grow into to a rhythm of sacred reverence in their lives.  And closed the day helping a young friend test out a new guitar. 

Berry is right: deep does not speak to deep without a homecoming.  I grateful this night that the Lord has called us to this place"  "The whole earth is at rest, and is quiet: they break forth into singing." (Isaiah 14:7) 


Shepard said…
Thanks for bringing Berry's literature and insite to my eyes! I think I know the man without ever meeting him.
RJ said…
You bet, my friend.

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