Tag Archives: wendell berry

All by Myself

18380808_1524829434235903_6230348940479299584_n(1)“Language . . . has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” – Paul Tillich

Our kids are grown, and my wife was out of town for the past week.  You do the math.  The house sure was empty.  I read a lot and for some diagnosable reason made the bed each morning and carried on with life’s responsibilities, but since television isn’t my thing and I rarely listen to music, other than the weird times when I carried on a conversation with myself, it sure was quiet around the house.  As they say, too quiet.

I think everyone would agree that loneliness is a terrible thing, but as Tillich noted, the English language makes room for an optimistic approach to time alone and calls it solitude.

Wendell Berry described solitude as the place where “we lose loneliness,” which is just a delightful thought.  He claims it a space where your “inner voices become audible” (tell me about it) and you sense “the attraction of one’s most intimate sources.”  It is a time and place where you reconnect with the inner you.

I don’t always like the inner me, but he deserves notice from time to time, and given the noisiness of this party called life it takes a little work to find the space.  Or your kids grow up and your wife takes a business trip.

When my dad died in 1994, I worried that my mom would be lost every day.  Turned out I was wrong.  When I spoke with her about it, she said, “I’ll be sad from time to time, but I’m not going to let myself be sad all the time.”  And for the eighteen years she had left on this planet, she was right.

Berry concluded that one emerges from solitude more useful to others: “The more coherent one becomes within oneself as a creature, the more fully one enters into the communion of all creatures.”¹

In solitude, I reflected on solitude and concluded that it deserves incorporation into the rhythm of life.  But I’m sure happy to have my wife home again.

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¹ Wendell Berry, “What Are People For?: Essays” 11 (Counterpoint, 1990).

 

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This Unpredictable Life

18253094_119542288608447_7804326198149906432_n(1)We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see
Ahead, but looking back the very light
That blinded us shows us the way we came,
Along which blessings now appear, risen
As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,
By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward
That blessed light that yet to us is dark.
– Wendell Berry, Given: Poems 74 (2006).

I first traveled to California ten years ago to attend the 64th Annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures.  At the time it seemed possible that it would be my first and only trip to beautiful Malibu (ironically blogging at the time, “I cannot imagine working in this gorgeous setting.”).  Life is funny.  By the next year, we were planning a crazy cross-country move to Pepperdine for law school with absolutely no idea that we would just stay—and “absolutely” absolutely no idea that I would ever return to full-time ministry.  So you can imagine the crazy déjà vu feelings this week when “Lecture Central” took up residence in my office for the 74th Annual Pepperdine Bible Lectures.

Life apparently is analogous to a box of chocolates (all rights reserved).

Life is unpredictable, and if you give me enough time to think about it I can pull my brain muscle.  What if we had stayed in Mississippi?  What if we had left California?  How did we really end up here?  Where are we headed now?  What’s for lunch?

But you know what?  I do know exactly how we got here: One day at a time.  And I’m pretty sure that’s how we will get wherever it is we find ourselves ten years from now, too.

Henri Nouwen wrote, “The real enemies of our life are the ‘oughts’ and the ‘ifs.’  They pull us backward into the unalterable past and forward into the unpredictable future.  But real life takes place in the here and now.”  I’m with Nouwen on this one.  I’m not good at it, but I’m with him.

Still, looking back every now and then, as Berry so beautifully described, provides nice motivation for the journey forward.

Back from the Future

A couple of years ago I took StrengthsFinder 2.0 with our new law students as a part of their orientation.  StrengthsFinder is a test that reveals your greatest strengths, and the idea was to make sure that the new law students knew that they had strong points before law school did its thing and made them question whether they had any value at all.  I enjoyed the test and found it quite useful, but embarrassingly, messed up a bit at the first of the test, which kicked “brainiac” out of contention for one of my top five strengths.  Still, my top three—Discipline, Strategic, and Achiever—seemed spot on.

Recently, I retook the test alongside the entire law school staff and was careful to get it right from the start.  This time, my top three strengths from the first go-around came in as #1, #3, and #5—but #2 and #4 were new and spot on, too!  My second greatest strength, MIA the last time, is Futuristic according to StrengthsFinder.  “People who are especially talented in the Futuristic theme are inspired by the future and what could be.”  Oh yeah.  That’s me.

I have long believed that not only can our greatest strengths be our greatest weaknesses, but in fact they are our greatest weaknesses.  I don’t have to look hard at Futuristic to see how this is true with me—I can be so busy dreaming of the future that I miss out on the present.

A Wendell Berry poem in Given punches me in the gut on this particular point:

The Future

For God’s sake, be done
with this jabber of “a better world.”
What blasphemy! No “futuristic”
twit or child thereof ever
in embodied light will see
a better world than this, though they
foretell inevitably a worse.
Do something! Go cut the weeds
beside the oblivious road. Pick up
the cans and bottles, old tires,
and dead predictions. No future
can be stuffed into this presence
except by being dead. The day is
clear and bright, and overhead
the sun not yet half finished
with his daily praise.

I do think that looking ahead is important, and I value it as a strength, but looking ahead is important so that we see clearly how to act today.  If that element is missing, this supposed strength renders me nothing more than, to quote Berry, “a ‘futuristic’ twit.”

Hope SPRINGs Eternal

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.” — Rogers Hornsby

Well, spring has sprung, or so I hear: it is hard to tell living in a land of perpetual spring, but the calendar seems rather confident about it.

There is an idyllic conception of spring where the frigid death of winter awakens to butterflies and chirping birds, colorful explosions of flowers, cottony clouds floating across a bright blue sky, and Julie Andrews twirling in musical exultation.  This has not always been my experience, at least on the first day or two.

But spring is real.  Nature is rhythm, and the very planet is predictably reincarnated each year in a birth-death-birth cycle that generates hope in all things if you let it.  In an increasingly insulated and distracted world, however, it takes effort to notice.

Anne Lamott wrote, “I am going to try to pay attention to the spring. I am going to look around at all the flowers, and look up at the hectic trees. I am going to close my eyes and listen.”

I’m with her.  I want to sense hope in every way—to see it, and hear it, and smell it, and taste it, and touch it—and even engage an ineffable (sixth) supernatural sense.¹  I will work at it.  Hope is imperative.

The woods and pastures are joyous
in their abundance now
in a season of warmth and much rain.
We walk amidst foliage, amidst
song. The sheep and cattle graze
like souls in bliss (except for flies)
and lie down satisfied. Who now
can believe in winter? In winter
who could have hoped for this?

– Wendell Berry, Given 58 (2005).

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¹ Inexplicable hope is the substance that undergirds Easter.

 

The Question: To Be (Present), or Not to Be (Present)

[Note: As a speaker, writer, etcetera, it is rare that I simply allow something to speak for itself. I will today.]

The Vacation – by Wendell Berry

Once there was a man who filmed his vacation.
He went flying down the river in his boat
with his video camera to his eye, making
a moving picture of the moving river
upon which his sleek boat moved swiftly
toward the end of his vacation. He showed
his vacation to his camera, which pictured it,
preserving it forever: the river, the trees,
the sky, the light, the bow of his rushing boat
behind which he stood with his camera
preserving his vacation even as he was having it
so that after he had had it he would still
have it. It would be there. With a flick
of a switch, there it would be. But he
would not be in it. He would never be in it.