From Jake Meador's "Wendell Berry's 'Room of Love'" at Fare Forward
Near the end of The Gift of Good Land, Wendell Berry writes, “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.” This quote, perhaps more than any other quotation from his work, gets to the heart of Berry’s vision and the purpose of his writing. Berry’s project for over 50 years has been to argue for the goodness of reverent breaking and to demonstrate its possibility.
But as Berry’s phrasing suggests, reverent breaking is not just about discrete actions, but about the kind of people we are. Most of us who exploit the world, after all, are not so vicious that we willingly do things to desecrate God’s creation. Rather, we do it through our carelessness, laziness, or ignorance, failing to recognize the connection between our actions and the health of creation. And so the real question with Berry isn’t so much how we can break creation reverently, but how we can become the sort of people capable of breaking creation reverently. And this is why Berry’s novels are so vital to understanding his work. For it is in his novels that he shows us how we can go about becoming the sort of person capable of such a relationship to the created order.
One of the particularly powerful images Berry uses to capture this reverent relationship to creation is marriage. The stories of Port William are stories of marriages—Ptol Proudfoot and his wife Miss Minnie in the early 20th century all the way to the faithful stewards Danny and Lyda Branch of Berry’s later stories. Throughout Berry’s body of work, marriage functions as a means of learning how to live in creation, how to break it with reverence and in such a way that, in time, it will actually flourish. There are three marriages in particular that can offer a powerful picture of how Berry thinks we can break creation honorably and how we can become the sorts of people capable of such things.
Red much more at Fare Forward