Tag Archives: Wendell Berry

Apocalypse How Now Brown Cow

PW and I have been talking a lot about dark matter, dark energy, the Higgs boson, stuff like that. We like to pretend we’re theoretical physicists, being the thrill-seeking adrenaline junkies that we are.

And behold! We’re at the Winter Solstice, the day of the longest night in the Northern Hemisphere. Bazillions of folks who don’t care (or even know) what the Mayan calendar says about any other day of the year are suddenly going on about the end of the world. I bet the folks in the Southern Hemisphere can’t wait for our world to end so we’ll quit our bellyaching about all this darkness.

I have to say, I’m a fan of the darkness. Don’t get me wrong; I’m right there, complaining about how few hours of daylight there are; I can’t wait for more daylight hours. And. This morning–as I was walking to the bus in the close and cloudy damp, through the wind that was blowing everywhichaway, playing chicken with the occasional burst of raindrops–I thought, “Come on, darkness. I’ll dance with you.” Maybe that’s what happens when you get into one of those theoretical physicist grooves.

Once I was safely planted in my plastic bus seat for my commute into the big city, I decided I should share a few Solsice-y things with my Crooked Liners.

First, did you know that the “cataclysmic event” definition of the word “apocalypse” is a modern invention? I didn’t. The word originates from the Greek apokalyptein, which means “uncover, disclose, reveal.” Its general sense in Middle English was “insight, vision, hallucination.” I copied that from etymonline.com, so you know it’s true. Couldn’t we all use a little more insight and vision, maybe a GOOD hallucination or two? And isn’t it possible that some of the best insights and visions come to us under cover of darkness? I just re-read those two questions in a voice that parodies how Mike Wallace asked questions on 60 Minutes, and I encourage you to do the same.

The second thing I want to share with you is this excerpt from a poem by Yehuda Amichai. I’m willing to forgive his notion of God as male, because the ideas here are so refreshing:

from the poem “Gods Change, Prayers are Here to Stay”
by Yehuda Amichai
from the book Open Closed Open: Poems

I don’t want an invisible god. I want a god who is seen
but doesn’t see, so I can lead him around
and tell him what he doesn’t see. And I want
a god who sees and is seen. I want to see
how he covers his eyes, like a child playing blindman’s bluff.

I want a god who is like a window I can open
so I’ll see the sky even when I’m inside.
I want a god who is like a door that opens out, not in,
but God is like a revolving door, which turns, turns on its hinges
in and out, whirling and turning
without a beginning, without an end.

I declare with perfect faith
that prayer preceded God.
Prayer created God,
God created human beings,
human beings create prayers
that create the God that creates human beings.

That poem just changed revolving doors for me

Third, I stumbled across this Rose Cousins song yesterday. The chorus of “The Darkness” is from Wendell Berry’s beautiful little meditation on darkness.

To Know The Dark
by Wendell Berry

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light.
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.

I think Wendell Berry would be pleased with what Rose Cousins has made of his poem. Happy Solstice to all, and to all a dark, apocalyptic night–in the original sense of the word.

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.

Spring funk, idiot crocuses, and Godthreads

Recurring lines or thoughts in my Joybrain tend to take the form of those advertising banners that trail along behind propeller planes above the beach or concerts or outdoor festivals and sporting events. The planes fly back and forth in my mind’s eye, towing the banner that bears the thought that I can’t displace. For the past couple of days, the banner has read “Spring can hang you up the most.”

At the Winter Solstice, churches across various denominations increasingly offer “Blue Christmas” services to make some space and time for people who aren’t in sync with the jolly, cheery December holiday season. While I’m always grateful for the elbow room of a “Blue Christmas” service, Spring is when I’m aware of being in desperate need of something like that.

Crocus Idioticus

Spring is the time of year when I feel most out of step with the Season, with all the shiny happy people celebrating the lengthening daylight and the warmer weather. While I am one of those annoying, glass-half-full optimists, Spring is when I feel completely baffled by and sometimes cranky about the optimism of the first crocuses. On my way home from the bus stop last night, I realized the depth of my Spring funk when, upon seeing my first crocuses of the year, I thought (almost out loud), “Winter’s not REALLY over, you idiots.”

Luckily, I’m not left to my own devices. Community is a wonderful thing that way. Once a few years ago, GForce and I were driving in the car and the topic of God came up. She asked me what I thought God was. In that classic stalling tactic, I asked her what she thought. She said something like, “I think God is the thread that connects all of creation together.” “Even animals?” I asked. “I said ALL of creation, Mom. Of COURSE that includes animals!”

One of the Godthreads of my community that tugged me away from my Spring funk was getting caught up on the website of my long-time pals Martin & Heather. Last week, Heather reflected on Lent, and linked to a Wendell Berry essay called “Poetry and Marriage.” In the miracle that is the Internet, I read Heather’s lovely reflection, and in the blink of an eye, I was drinking thirstily from the oasis of Wendell Berry. In comparing marriage to poetic forms, Berry has all sorts of insights that I find particularly acute. I highly recommend the whole essay, and I’ve highlighted parts from two excerpts below that really pulled on me and my Spring funk:

“Because the condition of marriage is worldly and its meaning communal, no one party to it can be solely in charge. What you alone think it ought to be, it is not going to be. Where you alone think you want it to go, it is not going to go. It is going where the two of you—and marriage, time, life, history, and the world—will take it. You do not know the road; you have committed your life to a way…

It may be, then, that form serves us best when it works as an obstruction to baffle us and deflect our intended course. It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work and that when we no longer know which way to go we have begun our real journey. The mind that is not baffled is not employed. The impeded stream is the one that sings.” – “Poetry and Marriage” an essay by Wendell Berry in Standing by Words

And speaking of singing: today’s Psalm/Psong is “I’m Just Pulling on a Line” by a band called Great Lake Swimmers. I first heard them a couple of months ago while listening to my channel for the band The Low Anthem on Pandora.

The line runs through like a train in a book
Or meters underwater, ending with a hook.
It sways in the air when there’s wind enough to lift
The fine ones are boundaries when there is a rift.

I’m just pulling on a line, on a line, oh I’m just pulling on a line.
I’m just pulling on a line, on a line, and sometimes it pulls on me.

The line, it inks across the freshly fallen snow
Where only those embracing coldness would go.
It whistles and it whispers, and sometimes it howls.
It sings to me sweetly from trees and in vowels.

I’m just pulling on a line, on a line, oh I’m just pulling on a line.
I’m just pulling on a line, on a line, and sometimes it pulls on me.

The line, it writes itself across the dark sky
In the electric flashes ending with a sigh.
It weaves itself into a fabric so true
and flows just like the river, graceful and blue.

I’m just pulling on a line, on a line, oh I’m just pulling on a line.
I’m just pulling on a line, on a line, and sometimes it pulls on me.