I’m reading a lot of Wendell Berry these days. I’m a tad sad I was not aware of Berry until the past year or so. But…I am very grateful for his words. Specifically, I love reading his poems and novels. I remember the moment when I was first reading Berry’s poem, The Morning News. As I came to this line, I rested the book on the table and repeatedly stated aloud these words.
“I will purge my mind of the airy claims of church and state. I will serve the earth and not pretend my life could better serve.” – Wendell Berry, The Morning News
It was one of those discovery moments when the perfect words to describe the hopeful thought in the back of my imagination is born. Like a farmer admiring a newborn calf, I have walked around these words daily. Examining them. Considering them. Intrigued by their beauty. Their newness. Their life.
The list of “airy claims” is long. I confess I do not even know them all. Some are still rooted within my own beliefs. I may not even begin to see them until they begin to reveal their bitter fruit. But I am seeking to acknowledge them. For what I cannot acknowledge, I cannot change.
Although I do not have all the words today to describe its meaning to me. I daily hold onto these words as a motto. A hope for my family. A desire for myself. A wish for others.
And in the moments when I begin to doubt the path of life. When I question if time has been wasted, or when I am tempted to sneak off into the corner of regret…I remember another set of words from Berry and I make them my own.
“If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line – starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past the appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City. But that is not the way I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circling or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back. Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led – make of that what you will.” – Wendell Berry, Jaber Crow