Wendell Berry, “The Peace of Wild Things” [Poetry for Ordinary Time]

I’ve enjoyed posting poetry series themed around the Christian year in the past couple of years (see “Poetry for Lent” and “Poetry for Easter“). I will continue that with a series called “Poetry for Ordinary Time.” Ordinary time includes two sections of the church year between Christmastide and Lent and Easter and Advent. The word “ordinary” here derives from the word ordinal by which the weeks are counted. Still, ordinary time does serve an opportunity to embrace the ordinary spaces and places of our lives, and the themes of the poems will express this.

Here is Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things” from The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry. Wendell Berry is a contemporary poet, novelist, essayist, and proponent for agrarian environmentalism. Berry lives in Port William, Kentucky, where he farms and writes.


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.


Previous poems in this series:

The Weekend Wanderer: 10 July 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


“The Platform is Not the Person” – Scot McKnight in his TOV newsletter: “We all present ourselves to give good impressions to others. Ordinary community members want other ordinaries to think of them in positive ways. More public figures in a community do the same, sometimes with a more ramped method of image management. Teachers do this in their teaching, pastors do this from the platform and pulpit and in various communications, neighbors can be quite busy in managing what other neighbors think of them. Authors present themselves in their writings in a way that readers trust and then think of them in those terms. What about social media? Not a few critics think the whole thing is little more than image construction and management. I’m not so cynical, but let’s not be naïve: our social media is a forum of self-presentation. Let’s call all this self-presentation the platform. On the platform we create a persona, and the persona is what we want others to think of us, whether we are curating that image or not. Others generate impressions of who we are on the basis of our public presentation. Untangling persona and platform from person, personality and character require discerning eyes, wisdom, and discernment.”


green-burial“Green burial as an act of faith” – Dawn Araujo-Hawkins in The Christian Century: “Hoeltke started looking for a more Christlike alternative to conventional US burial practices—and she found it in the resurgent green or natural burial movement. Broadly speaking, green burial means caring for the dead with minimal environmental impact. That usually includes forgoing any chemical embalming, opting for a shroud or a biodegradable coffin instead of the more popular steel or fiberglass, and skipping the cement vaults that typically enclose a coffin in the ground. It can also mean being buried in a cemetery that practices land conservation efforts. And for some people, like Hoeltke, natural burial also involves a more participatory burial process: washing and dressing your loved one’s body at home, accompanying them to the grave site, physically laying them into the ground, and then fully covering their body with dirt. ‘It’s a really beautiful experience. And I know that sounds crazy, but I’ve seen the beauty of what can happen,’ Hoeltke said.”


“On Re-Reading Acts” – Alan Jacobs at Snakes and Ladders: “I’ve been re-reading the book of Acts, and my chief response this time is: It’s wonderfully encouraging to see how bluntly and unapologetically Luke records a chronicle of confusion, ineptitude, and misdirected enthusiasm. The apostles are often a collective mess, and Luke does nothing to hide that from us. I find this strangely consoling. It’s also fascinating to note how little the apostles understand the message they been entrusted with. They know that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah of Israel, and they know that the Christ’s own people rejected him and demanded his death – but beyond that they’re a little fuzzy about what the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus mean.”


faith doubt“Writing in the Sand: The Poetry of Doubt and Faith” – Christian Wiman in Plough: “A few years ago I was asked to give the convocation address at Yale Divinity School, where I have taught for the past decade. Not only did I happen to be reading George Marsden’s biography of the great eighteen-century minister and theologian Jonathan Edwards, who was both a student and tutor at Yale, but I happened to have paused at precisely the moment when Edwards himself was about to address the student body. Teaching in an institution to which I would not have been admitted as a student (bad grades, bad ‘life choices’), I was flattered by the association, and it occurred to me that many of the students in attendance might be as well. To be welcomed into a place with so much august history, so much intellectual curiosity and attainment, so many great names – surely it’s worth a moment of pride. But maybe just a moment….What I do have instead are two things. The first is a first-century Jew from Nazareth well known for his oratorical skills but nevertheless, at a crucial moment in his ministry, remaining silent and writing in the sand. It is a strange moment – and one of my very favorite stories from the New Testament. I’ll come back to that. The second thing is another form of writing in the sand: poetry.”


Wendell Berry's radical conservatism“When Losing Is Likely: Wendell Berry’s Conservative Radicalism” – Brad East in The Point: “The lesson: “cultivating our own gardens and learning the virtues we have forgotten will not suffice to save the world.” Scialabba is surely correct about that. But I think he is wrong about Berry, and in a way that opens the door to larger questions. Those questions concern the connection between public justice and private virtue—or, put differently, whether justice is at once a private and a public virtue. Furthermore, they raise an issue facing a variety of factions and social movements across the world today: namely, whether it is possible to live with integrity, not to mention a clean conscience, when the causes in which one believes and for which one advocates are likely to lose.”


Patriotism?“How Do Christian Patriots Love Their Country Well?” – David French at The Dispatch: “Yet five years later, as our nation picks up the pieces from one of the most divisive, cruel, and incompetent administrations in the modern history of the United States—one in which the pursuit of Christian power led to prominent Christian voices endorsing nation-cracking litigation and revolutionary efforts to overturn a lawful election—the Christian “deal” looks bad indeed. When push came to shove, all too often the pursuit of justice yielded to the pursuit of power. The cultural shockwaves are still being felt. They’re rearranging not just America’s political alignments but our language itself. Is “Evangelical” more of a political marker than a religious identifier? Does it even carry true religious meaning any longer?”


Music: Mordent.IO, “The Foundation”

The Weekend Wanderer: 22 May 2021

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like. Disclaimer: I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.


Israel Palestine“Rockets, Riots, Sermons, and Soccer: Christian Views on the Conflict in Gaza and Israel” – Jayson Casper at Christianity Today: “Bombs fall in Gaza as rockets target Israel. Frustrated Arab rioters are met by extremist Jewish settlers. And in the middle of it all, Danny Kopp sent his boys out to play soccer. Numbers were down at the Jerusalem neighborhood park frequented by Jew and Arab alike, but his 13-, 10-, and 8-year-old sons still translated between the sides. ‘These encounters, as small as they are, remind belligerents that coexistence is still viable,’ said the chairman of the Evangelical Alliance in Israel. ‘Wholesale vilifying is simply inaccurate.’ But it is easy to do, if attached to a favored narrative.”


Kingsnorth First Things“The Cross 
and the Machine” – I first became acquainted with the writings of Paul Kingsnorth through his fascinating book, Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist and Other Essays. Through that book I discovered Kingsnorth’s shared love for the work of Wendell Berry, including the fact that Kingsnorth edited a recent selection of Wendell Berry’s works The World-Ending Fire: The Essential Wendell Berry. Further digging led me to explore his writing as part of the Dark Mountain Project. Several times in my reading I have wondered where Kingsnorth was headed spiritually, and then I discovered this recent essay by him at First Things about his conversion to Christianity. As Rod Dreher comments on this article: “Drop everything you’re doing right now and read [it].”


worship hands“Why Contemporary Worship Isn’t Actually Ruining the Church” – Glenn Packiam at Missio Alliance: “In the latest iteration of a tired diatribe against contemporary worship, Hans Boersma complained in First Things that contemporary worship is ruining everything…But Boersma is wrong. Worship historians Lester Ruth and Swee-Hong Lim traced multiple root systems for the contemporary worship movement. Yes, one is indeed a missional impulse borne of a burden to reach the lost. But another—arguably the more dominant one—is the expectation of an encounter with the presence of God. Contemporary worship songs that are being sung around the world aren’t being written by seeker-friendly megachurches trying to set Jesus-y lyrics to Taylor Swift tunes just to get the kids to come through the doors. These songs are being written by charismatic worship leaders who believe that something happens when the people of God gather to praise God.”


AAPI_Heritage_Month“The Asian American Experience: a free reading guide” – From Fuller Seminary’s Centered: Resources for the Asian American Church: “Asian American identity is complicated! ’20 million Asian Americans trace their roots to more than 20 countries in East and Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent,’ with a broad range of immigration experiences, income levels, religions, languages, and cultures. The resources below, ordered from short articles to lengthy readers and study guides, are all freely available from credible, well-respected sources. We recommend them as beginning points to explore and become conversant in the identity and needs of Asian America.”


CMDA“Is It Discrimination or ‘Do No Harm’? Christian Doctors Gear Up for Transgender Debates” – Kate Shellnutt at Christianity Today: “As cultural conflicts around transgender identity grow more intense, Christian doctors see a need to be more sensitive to the plights and preferences of people experiencing gender dysphoria while also holding firm to personal and professional convictions around biological sex. That’s what the Christian Medical and Dental Associations (CMDA) says in an updated statement on transgender identification that leaders hope will inform its 20,000 members as well as the general public. That balance might be difficult to maintain, though, if federal health officials take the position that declining certain treatments for transgender patients can be considered a form of discrimination based on sex.”


teaching“How to Be a Writer: 10 Tips from Rebecca Solnit” – This list of ten tips on writing from author Rebecca Solnit at LitHub is well worth the read if you aspire to writing. Solnit offers advice that is simple yet necessary, like “Write…Write bad stuff because the road to good writing is made out of words and not all of them are well-arranged words” and ” Facts. Always get them right.” But she also speaks to the more profound, such as “Writing is facing your deepest fears and all your failures…[but] Find pleasure and joy. Maybe even make lists of joys for emergencies” and “What we call success is very nice and comes with useful byproducts, but success is not love.” Read it and then, well…write!


Music: Marvin Gaye, “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology),” from What’s Going On

Solitude Brings Coherence

We enter solitude, in which also we lose loneliness. Only discord can come of the attempt to share solitude. True solitude is found in the wild places, where one is without human obligation. One’s inner voices become audible. One feels the attraction of one’s most intimate sources. In consequence, one responds more clearly to other lives. The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures. One returns from solitude laden with the gifts of circumstance.

– Wendell Berry, “Healing,” Stanza IV in What Are People For?

Wendell Berry’s statement that we lose loneliness by entering solitude seems completely counter-intuitive. Most of us are afraid of solitude for the very reason that we feel, in being alone, we will necessarily become lonely. But it does not have to be that way.

As Berry mentions, it is often in the “wild places” are where I feel most at ease in solitude. The fresh air, the rugged wildness, and the scurrying of creatures around makes me aware of both my smallness in the vastness of God’s creation, yet also God’s infinite attentiveness to the cosmos He has made. In the midst of this, nature’s contours soothe my soul. I am sure this soothing arises in part because, as Berry writes, in these wild places we are without “human obligation.”  In wild places we are away from people we feel obligated to engage with and things we feel obligated to do.

Both for good and ill, it is in solitude that we hear inner voices. Words that have been floating around inside of us – whole streams of though – suddenly take on such clear force that we are at times overwhelmed. We wonder, “Where did that thought come from?” Or, “I haven’t thought about that in awhile.” In reality these thoughts and ideas – these inner voices – are ever-present yet go unheeded because of the clamor of people and things in our daily lives. The voices and thoughts are there, but until we quiet ourselves enough, both externally and internally, we often either suppress them or ignore them.

When we are attentive to these inner voices and more intimate thoughts, we have the opportunity to come to a more comprehensive internal order with God and ourselves. We bring those clamoring voices to the living God and ask to hear His voice in it all. The unheeded voices that were always there speaking messages of fear or hurt or joy to us have been heard, conversed with, and brought to greater resolution in conversation with the God who hears and knows us. They grow quiet now. God’s voice becomes more solid, enduring, and strong. It is in this journey that we achieve a sense of coherence. We become less divided and distracted.

It is from this order and coherence that God sends us out with the ability to more fully engage with others and the created world. We become more fully present and able to connect with those around us.  We are in tune with God and the cosmos because of His work in our turbulent souls. With the Spirit’s power strengthening our will we can face the things that come into our daily lives, both planned and unplanned.

In solitude the various slivers of our distracted and fragmented selves come to a greater unity in God’s presence. That greater unity enables us to receive people into true relationship and bring our tasks toward completion. It is that powerful reality mentioned in the psalms:

Teach me Your way, Lord, that I may rely on Your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name. (Psalm 86:11).

The Weekend Wanderer: 14 September 2019

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

Jarrid Wilson“Pastor, author and mental health advocate Jarrid Wilson dies by suicide” – This was probably one of the toughest news articles for me to read this past week. This was too reminiscent of Pastor Andrew Stoecklein‘s death about a year ago. As a pastor for nearly two decades, I find the uptick in pastors taking their life through suicide very difficult to handle. At the most basic level, this is just plain sad for the individual, their family, their church, and those influenced by their ministry. At a personal level, I know the strain and pressure that pastors deal with in ministry, and the very real times where the pressure feels like something you can no longer handle. Ed Stetzer does a good job of responding to this at The Exchange (“A Pastor Dies By Suicide: Three Things We All Need to Know”). You could support Wilson’s family in a tangible way here. I tweeted on Wednesday: “Life is fragile.  People need God, but people also need other people. Love those around you. If you are struggling, reach out for help.  Don’t go it alone.  The journey of life is not easy.” If you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, please talk with someone you know about this or reach out for help to the suicide prevention lifeline (1-800-273-8255). As the people of God, we have to engage with even the darkest issues of mental health together. This is at least one aspect of what it means to ” Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2).

 

91774“Celebrate Sexual Ethics. Don’t Apologize for Them.” – Andrea Palpant Dilley: “Over the last five years, an increasing number of believers have changed their stance on sexual ethics and slipped from the grounded banks of orthodoxy into the current of the times. Several public figures, in particular, have come out as ‘affirming’ and brought thousands with them. Those of us with a historic, biblical view feel at times defensive or discouraged, and our posture—quite understandably—is one of ‘holding our ground’ against theological erosion. In the midst of this tumult, we risk losing sight of what the church has to offer: not just a critique of false teaching (although that’s needed) but an alternative model, a bold vision of how orthodoxy enables deep, well-ordered love. As we encourage others to ‘stay on the bank,’ we have the privilege of pointing them toward a picture that reveals God’s purpose for human sexuality.”

 

Education“Rotten STEM: How Technology Corrupts Education” – Analyzing the role of technology is a hot topic, but here is a thoughtful, if not harsh, reading of technology and education in the US from Jared Woodard. “The U.S. education system spent more than $26 billion on tech­nology in 2018. That’s larger than the entire Israeli military budget. By one estimate, annual global spending on technology in schools will soon total $252 billion. To hear presidents and prime ministers tell it, this spending is laudable and even necessary to reduce inequality and prepare a workforce ready to compete in the global economy. But the technology pushed into schools today is a threat to child development and an unredeemable waste. In the first place, technology exacerbates the greatest problem of all in schools: confusion about their purpose. Education is the cultivation of a person, not the manufacture of a worker. But in many public school districts we have already traded our collective birthright, the promise of human flourishing, for a mess of utilitarian pottage called ‘job skills.’ The more recent, panicked, money-lobbing fetish for STEM is a late realization that even those dim promises will go unmet.”

 

6667“Skim reading is the new normal. The effect on society is profound” – On a related point, here is Maryanne Wolf reflecting on technology’s effect on reading and attention: “Look around on your next plane trip. The iPad is the new pacifier for babies and toddlers. Younger school-aged children read stories on smartphones; older boys don’t read at all, but hunch over video games. Parents and other passengers read on Kindles or skim a flotilla of email and news feeds. Unbeknownst to most of us, an invisible, game-changing transformation links everyone in this picture: the neuronal circuit that underlies the brain’s ability to read is subtly, rapidly changing – a change with implications for everyone from the pre-reading toddler to the expert adult.”

 

92032“What 1619 Means for Christian History” – A few weeks ago The New York Times released their monumental effort “The 1619 Project.” Regardless of whether one agrees with the goal of the project, this important cannot – and should not – be ignored. In Christianity Today‘s “Quick to Listen” podcast, Michael A. G. Haykin joins Morgan Lee and Mark Galli “to discuss the genesis of the church’s views on slavery, how the missions movement affected the slave trade, and the role of the Quakers in pricking the Protestant conscience on this atrocity.”

 

Jerry Falwell Politico“‘Someone’s Gotta Tell the Freakin’ Truth’: Jerry Falwell’s Aides Break Their Silence” – There is probably no religious leader as tightly connected to Donald Trump as Jerry Falwell, Jr., who serves as the president and chancellor at Liberty University. This piece gets inside the feelings around Falwell in at least some areas of the school. “At Liberty University, all anyone can talk about is Jerry Falwell Jr. Just not in public. ‘When he does stupid stuff, people will mention it to others they consider confidants and not keep it totally secret,’ a trusted adviser to Falwell, the school’s president and chancellor, told me. ‘But they won’t rat him out.’ That’s beginning to change.”

 

Petrusich-WendellBerry-2“Going Home with Wendell Berry: The writer and farmer on local knowledge, embracing limits, and the exploitation of rural America” – Wendell Berry is one of the finest writers of our era, bringing a combination of artistry, love, and prophetic zeal to his poetry, fiction, and essays. If you’ve never read his work, let me commend Jayber Crow or What Are People For? as good starting points. In this article in The New Yorker, Amanda Petrusich interviews Berry about his writing, his decision to return to Kentucky, human freedom and limits, agriculture, and much more.

 

Music: Jóhann Jóhannsson, “A Sparrow Alighted Upon Our Shoulder,” from Orphée.

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]