Poet and Prophet
see also Wendell Berry and John Cobb
Think Locally, Act Locally
Our world is a network of networks of networks of local communities, says John Cobb in Five Foundations for a New Civilization. The world is no better than its local places, adds Wendell Berry in a lifetime of writing and farming. Find your hope in the ground underneath your feet, he says. Come to know the place where you live: its people, its land, its animals. Know it well and listen carefully, again and again, letting it teach you. Even if you live in a city, reclaim the wisdom of the agrarian tradition and support your local farmers. Don't let modernity fool you. It's not all about cities; it's also about soil and a dignity of hard work, about partnerships between town and farm, about core values such as honesty, frugality, wilderness, and love.
Don't be afraid to be a little angry, too. Fight like hell against the corporations and people who seek to rule the world. Fight also against the idea that life is only about numbers and profit. Be a human being first, with body and mind coalescing in the mystery of who you can become in relationship with people, animals, and the earth. Think globally? Yes. But think locally, too.
In your local place be a leader from the ground up: an example of what it means to live frugally, hopefully, and lovingly with a sense of place. Along the way, don't worry so much about results. We don't have a right to ask whether we will succeed or not, says Wendell Berry, the future doesn't exist yet. The only thing we have a right to ask is: "What's the right thing to do. What does this earth require of us if we want to continue to live on it."
If we ask this question and listen for answers in our local places, we are doing the great work. There's some joy in it, too. We can take pleasure in work, in family, in friends, in the peace of wild things. And there's faith in it, too: not faith in a tyrant in the sky but faith in a creative source from whose heart the whole thing -- all of it -- is a gift and a treasure for which we are responsible. Some speak of this creative source as love. Some as God. Some as the Sacred. The words are secondary to the reality.
Back to John Cobb. The need for people today is to live with a sense of loyalty to the world in a spirit of "open and relational" thinking and living. What does this look like? Wendell Berry provides an image. It is to care about the world: Yes. But it is to care also, and just as deeply, as the holy ground on which we stand in our own local places. This community, these people, this land, these animals. If they have been desecrated, help redeem with your life and love, your work and play. After all, how we live is our only sermon to the world. If we live lovingly, that's our sermon. Wendell Berry calls it the gospel.
There’s a world of pleasure in contrariness.
“Dance,” they told me, and I stood still, and while they stood
quiet in line at the gate of the Kingdom, I danced.
“Pray,” they said, and I laughed, covering myself
in the earth’s brightnesses, and then stole off gray
into the midst of a revel, and prayed like an orphan.
When they said, “I know that my Redeemer liveth,”
I told them, “He’s dead.” And when they told me,
“God is dead,” I answered, “He goes fishing every day
in the Kentucky River. I see him often.
Going against men, I’ve heard at times a deep harmony
thrumming in the mixture, and when they asked me what,
I say I don’t know. It is not the only
or the easiest way to come to the truth. It is one way.
A Poem on Hope
It is hard to have hope. It is harder as you grow old,
for hope must not depend on feeling good
and there’s the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
of the future, which surely will surprise us,
and hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
anymore than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.
Because we have not made our lives to fit
our places, the forests are ruined, the fields, eroded,
the streams polluted, the mountains, overturned. Hope
then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
of what it is that no other place is, and by
your caring for it, as you care for no other place, this
knowledge cannot be taken from you by power or by wealth.
It will stop your ears to the powerful when they ask
for your faith, and to the wealthy when they ask for your land
and your work. Be still and listen to the voices that belong
to the stream banks and the trees and the open fields.
Find your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground underfoot.
The world is no better than its places. Its places at last
are no better than their people while their people
continue in them. When the people make
dark the light within them, the world darkens.
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world and am free.
Notes from Wendell Berry's interview.
The Need to be Angry
The importance of “leadership from the bottom” – people who care for the earth and for community who simply see something that needs to be done and start doing it.
The Power of Commitment: