We Forget The Greater And Still Continuing Miracle

Today 5th August,is the birthday of a great writer Wendell Berry , born in Port Royal, Kentucky (1934).

Berry is a poet and writer of essays and novels, many of which reflect his concern for the natural world and the ways we interact with it. Many people think of him as a prophet for our times, yet this is a title he would likely run away from !

In an exchange of letters with a dear friend, Wendell Berry explains here why his writing is only a small part of the movement against greed and waste and why he prefers the quieter life now

 He talks of life and faith in God with such wisdom and can move me to tears when he writes about the way we desecrate nature and our inability to live in community in harmony. 

But he also has a wide vision that recognises with humour the place we have as individuals and the fact that we are only sojourners on this earth. He also recognises the complexity of slow change.

This is a terrific speech where Wendell Berry speaks to a sold out audience at the Lisner, Washington,DC. 
This is what the person filming said :"This video appears to vibrate because there was so much energy and intensity in the room that the platform I was filming from was alive."

He has a deep sense of what is necessary to imagine life in alternative ways of stewardship of the earth in contrast to the unsustainable and destructive ways of current global, industrial, and consumer culture that we currently are embroiled in.

Wendell Berry's body of work is important because he writes about  themes we all need to know more of :  Good Work, Holy Living, Imagination, and Moving Forward.
This excellent post from Ron Cole at The Weary Pilgrim Blog contains a poem (reproduced below) from Berry that was written decades ago but as the world teeters on the brink of the possibility of a double dip recession it carries an uncanny prophetic message.

The world is babbled to pieces after
the divorce of things from their names.
Ceaseless preparation for war
is not peace. Health is not procured
by sale of medication, or purity
by the addition of poison. Science
at the bidding of the corporations
is knowledge reduced to merchandise;
it is a whoredom of the mind,
and so is the art that calls this “progress.”
So is the cowardice that calls it “inevitable.”

When I hear the stock market has fallen,
I say, “Long live gravity! Long live
stupidity, error and greed in the palaces
of fantasy capitalism!” I think
an economy should be based on thrift,
on taking care of things, not on theft,
usury, seduction, waste, and ruin.
My purpose is a language that can make us whole,
Though mortal, ignorant, and small.
The world is whole beyond human knowing.
 Harlan Hubbard Pastoral Kentucky Hillside with Sheep

In Washington earlier this year Wendell Berry delivered the agrarian gospel with no holds barred at the Future of Food conference: “We must abandon the homeopathic delusion that the damages done by industrialization can be corrected by more industrialization,” he said. 
“Our fundamental problem is world destruction caused by an irreconcilable contradiction between the natural world and the engineered world of industrialism.” 

“…There is no use in saying that if we can invent the nuclear bomb and fly to the moon, we can solve hunger and related problems of land use,” Berry said. 

“Epic feats of engineering require only a few brilliant technicians and a lot of money.
But feeding a world of people year to year for a long time requires cultures of husbandry fitted to the nature of millions of unique small places — precisely the kind of cultures that industrialism has purposely disvalued, uprooted and destroyed.”

These are some more of my favourite quotes and a couple of my favourite poems of his.
Berry said, "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you."

"To live, we must daily break the body and shed the blood of Creation. When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it is a sacrament. 

When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily, destructively, it is a desecration. In such desecration we condemn ourselves to spiritual and moral loneliness, and others to want." 

"I don't think it is enough appreciated how much an outdoor book the Bible is. It is a "hypaethral book," such as Thoreau talked about - a book open to the sky. It is best read and understood outdoors, and the farther outdoors the better.

Or that has been my experience of it. Passages that within walls seem improbable or incredible, outdoors seem merely natural. This is because outdoors we are confronted everywhere with wonders; we see that the miraculous is not extraordinary but the common mode of existence. It is our daily bread. 

Whoever really has considered the lilies of the field or the birds of the air and pondered the improbability of their existence in this warm world within the cold and empty stellar distances will hardly balk at the turning of water into wine - which was, after all, a very small miracle. 

We forget the greater and still continuing miracle by which water (with soil and sunlight) is turned into grapes." 

Wendell Berry (The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry

"If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line - starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King's Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. 

But that is not the way I have done it, so far. 

I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. 

The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. 

I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. 

Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led - make of that what you will." 

Wendell Berry (Jayber Crow)

 "As I have read the Gospels over the years, the belief has grown in me that Christ did not come to found an organized religion but came instead to found an unorganized one. 

He seems to have come to carry religion out of the temples into the fields and sheep pastures, onto the roadsides and the banks of the rivers, into the houses of sinners and publicans, into the town and the wilderness, toward the membership of all that is here. 

Well, you can read and see what you think." 

Wendell Berry (Jayber Crow
The Peace of Wild Things

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light.

 For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Teach me work that honors Thy work,
the true economies of goods and words,

to make my arts compatible

with the songs of the local birds.


Teach me patience beyond work
and, beyond patience, the blest

Sabbath of Thy unresting love

which lights all things and gives rest.

“Sabbaths 2002, X”
Given: New Poems
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