Loving others

learning sacredness

Concepts learned from Wendell Berry
Excerpts from Wendell Berry (compiled by Richard Hovey)
One of the most beautiful insights I have gleaned from Wendell Berry is that of sacredness; it is important to note that in Berry’s understanding all things are sacred, but have been desecrated. I find this aligns so well with the scriptural teaching that all creation has been made by God, humanity being made in the image of God, and the story of redemption is one of restoring order (holiness) to all things. Through loving self more than God or others or the earth, we have desecrated this world in which we live and the people we live in this world with. Redemption is the work of making things right; is it the pursuit of shalom. To do the work of redemption, love must become our objective. I’ll leave my commentary minimal in what follows, allowing Berry to speak in his wisdom.
In a powerful poem, The Objective, Berry writes:
Even while I dreamed I prayed that what I saw was only fear and no foretelling,
for I saw the last known landscape destroyed for the sake
of the objective--the soil bulldozed, the rock blasted.
Those who had wanted to go home would never get there now.
I visited the offices where for the sake of the objective, 
the planners planned at blank desks set in rows. 
I visited the loud factories where the machines were made
that would drive ever forward toward the objective. 
I saw the forest reduced to stumps and gullies; 
I saw the poisoned river - the mountain cast into the valley;
I came to the city that nobody recognized because it looked like every other city.
I saw the passages worn by the unnumbered footfalls of those 
whose eyes were fixed upon the objective.
Their passing had obliterated the graves and the monuments 
of those who had died in pursuit of the objective 
and who had long ago forever been forgotten, 
according to the inevitable rule that those who have forgotten 
forget that they have forgotten.
Men and women and children now pursued the objective as if nobody ever had pursued it before.
The races and the sexes now intermingled perfectly in pursuit of the objective.
The once-enslaved, the once-oppressed, 
were now free to sell themselves to the highest bidder 
and to enter the best paying prisons in pursuit of the objective, 
which was the destruction of all enemies,
which was the destruction of all obstacles, 
which was to clear the way to victory, 
which was to clear the way to promotion, 
to salvation, 
to progress, 
to the completed sale, 
to the signature on the contract, 
which was to clear the way to self-realization, to self-creation, 
from which nobody who ever wanted to go home would ever get there now, 
for every remembered place had been displaced;
every love unloved,
every vow unsworn, 
every word unmeant
to make way for the passage of the crowd of the individuated, 
the autonomous, the self-actuated, the homeless with their many eyes 
opened toward the objective which they did not yet perceive in the far distance,
having never known where they were going,
having never known where they came from.
To live this way, as described in The Objective, is to continue the work of desecration. Berry invites us to find another way, which comes through in his poem How to be a Poet:
Make a place to sit down.
Sit down. Be quiet.
You must depend upon
affection, reading, knowledge,
skill—more of each
than you have—inspiration,
work, growing older, patience,
for patience joins time
to eternity. Any readers
who like your poems,
doubt their judgment.
Breathe with unconditional breath
the unconditioned air.
Shun electric wire.
Communicate slowly. Live
a three-dimensioned life;
stay away from screens.
Stay away from anything
that obscures the place it is in.
There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places
and desecrated places.
Accept what comes from silence. 
Make the best you can of it.
Of the little words that come
out of the silence, like prayers
prayed back to the one who prays,
make a poem that does not disturb
the silence from which it came.
(The Peace of Wild Things, 101).
In reflecting upon the line in “How to be a Poet” about sacred and desecrated places, the authors of Sacred and Desecrated: forty days with Wendell Berry, note: “The idea is that God has made all things holy because he is Holy. No matter what we do we cannot reduce their nature to ‘unsacred’ we can only desecrate them with our actions. For Berry this includes the land, animals, government, the economy and our lives. In short, all creation is sacred, though some of it has been desecrated through the corruption of sin” (Sacred and Desecrated, from the Introduction).
Berry has been described as a poet, farmer, essayists, revolutionary or activist of sorts, and an agriculturalist; but I wonder if above all of these, he is a prophet - a person holding forth much needed truth for our day, for today. One of these truths needing to be reclaimed in our day is the sacredness of everything. In his book Blessed are the Peacemakers Berry writes:
As every reader knows, the Gospels are overwhelmingly concerned with the conduct of human life, of life in the human commonwealth. In the Sermon on the Mount and in other places Jesus is asking his followers to see that the way to more abundant life is the way of love. We are to love one another, and this love is to be more comprehensive than our love for family and friends and tribe and nation. We are to love our neighbors though they may be strangers to us. We are to love our enemies. And this is to be a practical love; it is to be practiced, here and now. Love is evidently not just a feeling but is indistinguishable from the willingness to help, to be useful to one another. . . . When Jesus speaks of having life more abundantly, this, I think, is the life He means: a life that is not reducible by division, category, or degree, but is one thing, heavenly and earthly, spiritual and material, divided only insofar as it is embodied in distinct creatures. He is talking about the finite world that is infinitely holy, a world of time that is filled with life that is eternal. His offer of more abundant life, then, is not an invitation to declare ourselves as certified ‘Christian,’ but rather to become conscious, consenting, and responsible participants in the one great life, a fulfillment hardly institutional at all. To be convinced of the sanctity of the world, and to be mindful of a human vocation to responsible membership in such a world, must always have been a burden. But it is a burden that falls with greatest weight on us humans of the industrial age who have been and are, by any measure, the humans most guilty of desecrating the world and of destroying creation. . . . To the offer of more abundant life, we have chosen to respond with the economics of extinction. If we take the Gospels seriously, we are left, in our dire predicament, facing an utterly humbling question: How must we live and work so as to not be estranged from God’s presence in His work and in all His creatures? The answer, we may say, is given in Jesus’s teaching about love. But that answer raises another question that plunges us into the abyss of our ignorance, which is both human and peculiarly modern: How do we make of that love an economic practice? (Blessed are the Peacemakers, 62-68)
In another book, Life is a Miracle, Berry gives an answer at least in part to this question:
The human necessity is not just to know, but also to cherish and protect the things that are known, and to know the things that can be known only by cherishing. If we are to protect the world’s multitude of places and creatures, then we must know them, not just conceptually but imaginatively as well. They must be pictured in the mind and in the memory; they must be known with affection, “by heart,” so that in seeing or remembering them the heart may be said to “sing,” to make a music peculiar to its recognition of each particular place or creature that it knows well. . . . To know imaginatively is to know intimately, particularly, precisely, gratefully, reverently, and with affection (Life is a Miracle, 137-138).
As we work through this call given by Wendell Berry, he leaves us in the form of a poem with an encouraging word when despair grows in us (as it did in him) in the pursuit of sacredness. This is a word of encouragement which through creation points us to the faithfulness of the God who has made us - and everything else - sacred:
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in 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.
(The Peace of Wild Things, 25).
Hewitt, John and Eli Jackson and Emily Mosher and Michelle Shackelford. Sacred and Desecrated. Bolton, ON: Amazon, n/d.
Berry, Wendell. Blessed are the Peacemakers. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2005.
Berry, Wendell . Life is a Miracle. Berkeley, CA: Counterpoint, 2000
Berry, Wendell . The Peace of Wild Things. Great Britain: Penguin Books, 2018.