Fools for Love

Well, here we are, almost through the first day of the 50 days of Easter, and in the midst of the eight days of the Passover festival. Getting to this part of the year feels more like the New Year to me than any other time of year. Maybe because the days are still getting longer, and spring is stubbornly insisting its way into New England, despite the occasional frost that I’m still finding when I walk the dog in the mornings.

I called last Sunday as Fool Sunday, ostensibly because it aligned with April Fool’s Day. But mostly I called it that because the whole undertaking of being a Christian, or maybe any person of faith, seems deeply and counter-culturally Foolish to me. If nothing else, Faith is Foolishness in action, and I mean that in all the best senses of the word Fool.

As I left church last Sunday, one of my fellow congregants — D — was standing outside his double-parked car waiting for one of our more debilitated parishioners, whom I called “Z” the previous time I wrote about her. Z doesn’t like to be touched, so she doesn’t like to ride the subway to church, even though it stops right outside her apartment.

There’s a group of parishioners who have agreed to provide Z rides to and from church. So, last Sunday, while Z, at her glacial pace, inched her way into the front passenger seat of D’s car, I walked toward D and we had a brief exchange about what a good service it had been. I said, “I think it might have been the best Fool Sunday ever!”

D looked confused. I said, “It’s the confluence of April Fool’s Day and Palm Sunday: Fool Sunday! And if nothing else, we are Fools for Love, right?” And I nodded toward Z’s painfully slow progress into D’s car. D brightened. “Heyy…Fools for Love…I like that! I like that a lot!”

To get us off to a running start for Eastertide, PW ended her Easter sermon today with this quotation from Wendell Berry’s brilliant “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”: “Be joyful though you have considered all the facts.” Isn’t that a perfectly concise description of one of the Fool’s greatest responsibilities? From the perspective of this particular Joy, I say yes, yes it is.

Thank you Wendell Berry for coming up with such a compact job description. Thank you PW for sharing it with those of us who were Foolish enough to spend  Easter morning at Emmanuel.

Here’s Berry’s poem in its entirety. May you enjoy a Happily Foolish, Foolishly Happy Eastertide and/or Passover Festival.

The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

by Wendell Berry

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.

Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion – put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.


9 responses to “Fools for Love

  1. barbara howard

    It is about 3 a.m. and I’ve finished reading your blog. The blessing tht you are comes rocketing into this room where quiet and clutter intermingle and I sit overwhelmed with gratitude. Today I have to go explain why someone who misses every other word in some sermons (not deliberately, but sometimes a blessing) should not serve as a juror. My civic duty is to decline, but in doing so, I want to model Wendell Berry’s resistant spririt while still valuing democracy. Thank you for the impetus I need to do so.

    • Well, my Mama, for the record, I think you’d be a great juror. And that’s probably why you won’t get picked. Just be your sweet, compassionate self and that will probably disqualify you.

      As for the gratitude, mine for you is also overwhelming. It’s a match!

  2. As a contrarian, I love the way the commands begin with the ones you must not follow. But then they’re followed by ones the speaker seriously wants you to consider, which makes me feel less obliging. Still, there are lots of good lines, and some cognitive resistance in the lines “be joyful/though you have considered all the facts.”

    • Jeanne, I think Berry’s point is that everyone’s life can be a cautionary tale. And I think this manifesto is asking what sort of cautionary tale do you want your life to be? If you follow the commands in the first three lines, which is one kind of madness, you can expect the next seven lines to be the results of such a path. The last three lines of that first stanza are particularly chilling consequences to my mind.

      Most days, I’m working at being the sort of cautionary tale told by the rest of the poem, which is a different kind of madness. If people are squinting when they look at me, because they can’t quite figure me out, I tend to think that my life is on the right track. If they’re smiling, belly laughing, or crying and they don’t necessarily know why, this also encourages me. (:

  3. Thank you, Joy. I didn’t know Noah Gundersen, but found myself weeping opening even as it began. This has been such a fierce time of mourning for our family, and his song penetrates our darkest questions. Again, I find myself grateful for you. What a privilege to be in your gaze.

  4. I like the pro-women lines in the middle. Also, though I’ve read his prose, I’ve not read his poetry. Perhaps it’s time to remedy that. Well, more that just here. :)

  5. Hi Joy,
    The Berry is very fine, thanks very much, thanks to PW for using it.

    I set portions of another Berry “mad farmer” poem in the piece I wrote for Emmanuel six years ago called
    “One with the Darkness, One with the Light” Here’s the text I used:
    At night make me one with the darkness.
    In the morning make me one with the light.
    When I rise up
    let me rise up joyful
    like a bird.
    When I fall
    let me fall without regret
    like a leaf.
    Let me wake in the night
    and hear it raining
    and go back to sleep.

    As for Berry’s prose, I very much enjoyed his novel
    called Jayber Crow.

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