A city pastor finds common ground with Wendell Berry

While it may seem that a city lover and return to rural advocate have little in common, Berry has many themes that apply across many locations. A central theme for Berry is commitment to place and specifically commitment to places the modern economy says are not worth much. For Berry himself this is rural Kentucky. So, whether it be in poetry, essay, or short story form Berry is a tireless advocate for the place of the small farm in rural lands. The rural family farm is not only worth something, but in a strange way capable of providing a better life than the one our modern economy offers.

Read all of "Wendell Berry and a City Pastor" by David Kamphuis at The Fire Escape.


Video Reflection on a Wendell Berry Sabbath Poem

"This video explores my favorite ekphrastic poem -- a 2004 selection from American poet Wendell Berry’s vast collection of spiritual, nature-oriented Sabbath Poems, which in Berry’s words, were written “in silence, in solitude, mainly out of doors.” This poem was inspired by the watercolor painting Jacob’s Dream by the visionary English artist and poet William Blake, which depicts in a unique spiral stairway the famous Biblical story of Jacob’s ladder from Genesis 28."

Visit A Moonlighting English Teacher at YouTube.


"Darker and darker," concerning a Wendell Berry quote

When Advent arrives each year, we find a flurry of folks quoting and re-quoting this fine sentence, "It gets darker and darker, and then Jesus is born." This is often, but not always, attributed to Wendell Berry. And it is sometimes attributed to something Wendell Berry has written. Yet, to my knowledge, he has not actually used it in any of his works.

The source is, in fact, Wendell Berry via Anne Lamott, who used it in Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith (2006). Here is the relevant page:

From Plan B Further Thoughts on Faith By Anne Lamott 2006


On Wendell Berry, Counterfeit Meaning, Footwear, Grace, Etc.

Much of Berry’s fiction and essays can sound a bit like a Romans commentary. He writes with a true-to-life low anthropology that perfectly frames the miracle of grace. We see bits of this in a 2019 interview he did with the activist Tim DeChristopher, the transcript of which was recently published by Orion Magazine. In a terrific shot by Guy Mendes, provided with the article, we see the much younger DeChristopher sitting across from Berry in what look to be living room chairs pulled out onto the front porch of the Berrys’ home, a border collie stretched out between them. I think Wendell managed to pull off his bold sartorial choice of black socks and sandals with style. The two don’t waste much time on pleasantries, DeChristopher starting off the conversation with a light hors d’oeuvre of nihilism.
 
    DeChristopher: We’re not just blowing things apart; we’re changing our own DNA in a way that makes human existence meaningless.

    Berry: I don’t think humans have any power over meaning. Meaning is given to us. We can’t make meaning.

    DeChristopher: I don’t agree with that. We make meaning all the time.

    Berry: The ability of humans even to discover meaning is very limited. They counterfeit meaning all the time.

Read all of "Wendell Berry Wants to Shoot a Drone" by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird.


On Reading Wendell Berry's Fiction

The characters in Port William know each other and know each other’s stories. Sometimes this takes the form of town gossip, but more often than not it exists because the people genuinely know and care about each other. They speak of each other’s families, burdens, and businesses. This knowledge generates a community of mutual respect and concern as well as helping each other see potential areas where they can trip up. For example, Jayber Crow watches with horror as Troy Chatham mishandles his father-in-law’s farm and life’s work. Nathan and Hannah Coulter spot the deficiencies in their daughter’s marriage from a distance before disaster strikes in the form of her husband’s infidelity.

Read all of "What I Learned from Reading Wendell Berry" by Scott Slayton at One Degree to Another.


On Wendell Berry and Thomas Merton

In 1965 Thomas Merton, after long waiting, moved into his hermitage on the grounds of Our Lady of Gethsemani monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky, where he had lived since 1942. A few months earlier and eighty miles north, Wendell Berry took apart a cabin that had belonged to his uncle and rebuilt it as his writing place, a kind of hermitage of his own, which James Baker Hall describes as “not just a quiet place, it was a place of quiet.”

Merton and Berry met, it seems, at least once— on December 10, 1967, exactly one year before Merton’s death. Wendell and his wife Tanya, poet Denise Levertov, the photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard, and his wife Madelyn all met at Gethsemani for lunch. The meeting seems to have been pleasant but exhausting for Merton, who wrote in his journal for that day “I am hoping this next week will be quiet — a time of fasting and retreat. Too many people here lately.”

Read all of "Work and Prayer: The Brief Friendship of Thomas Merton and Wendell Berry" by Dan Rattelle at Front Porch Republic.


Wirzba on Soil, Garden and Wendell Berry

Among contemporary writers, few have understood and articulated these insights as well as Wendell Berry. Whether in the form of poetry, story, or essay, Berry has argued that apart from a people’s commitment to repair and nurture particular places and communities, the world comes to ruin. His call to “return to the land” is not the expression of some romantic yearning to relocate urbanites within an agrarian arcadia that never existed. The issue is not relocation, but the development of the sympathies and skills that make for an enduring, responsible, and beautiful livelihood. One doesn’t need a farm to do that. All one needs is a place within which to learn to exercise care and commitment. He knows it won’t be easy, especially in cultures characterized by speed, rootlessness, and a spectator approach to life.

Read all of "The Ground of Hospitality" by Norman Wirzba at Plough.

 


On Wendell Berry's Christianity

It was in 1979 that Berry published his first essay on a biblical vision of stewardship, started writing his sabbath poems, and began drafting Remembering. At this time, he was also carrying on a remarkable correspondence with the Buddhist poet Gary Snyder in which he takes up, albeit uneasily, the defense of the biblical tradition. Berry’s revisions to his earlier work provide another window into his changing stance toward Christianity during these years; when he selects his poems for the 1985 Collected Poems, he omits several of his early poems that conveyed a kind of pagan, animist vision of creation.

What seems to underlie this shift is Berry’s growing sense that the Christian language of Creation was indispensable for rightly articulating the human place in the world. As he writes in his 1979 essay “The Gift of Good Land,” “the idea of the land as a gift—not a free or a deserved gift, but a gift given upon certain rigorous conditions” has far-reaching implications, and working out the implications of Creation-as-gift animates much of Berry’s later work.

Read  a section of Jeffrey Bilbro's "When Did Wendell Berry Start Talking Like a Christian?" at Christianity & Literature.


Applying some Wendell Berry insights to church practice

Berry believes that those who know the land best (i.e. those who farm it) will be most equipped to overcome its unique challenges. He believes the land should be “seen and known with an attentiveness that is schooled and skilled,” ultimately calling for “local knowledge and local love in individual people—people able to see, know, think, feel, and act coherently and well without the modern instinct of deference to the ‘outside expert’” (p. 117).

It’s a fantastic essay for many reasons—not the least of which is its quality of composition. But my interest in Berry’s essay isn’t agricultural as much as it is theological. Truth be told, I know next to nothing about farming, so I’d be foolish to weigh in one way or another. But “An Argument for Diversity” strikes me as being remarkably relevant to something I hope to be a bit more informed about: the mission of the church. What Berry has to say about local knowledge and local solutions needs to be heeded by God’s people.

Read all of "Listen Up!" by D. T. Humphrey at his blog.