On how spring brings out the Wendell Berry in us

The blooming of the natural world in spring can make me all the more appalled at our (my!) worship of the works of our hands. Discussing the commandment against idolatry in my Freshman religion class, I found myself recalling the words of the late Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger:

Until a recent period, beginning with the baroque in the seventeenth century, God the Father was always represented by a sign: the sacred tetragrammaton (the four Hebrew letters of the divine Name), the ray, the sun, the hand — in other words, by abstract symbols, because the Father cannot be depicted….

Interviewer: Are you shocked that God is represented physically in human form?

Lustiger: The Father, yes. Because that strikes me as being less respectful of the economy of salvation. You know the sentence from the prologue to Saint John’s Gospel: “No one has ever seen God” (1:18).

In class, I was soon on a mild rant against CCD books that picture God the Father as an old guy with a beard, and depriving a child of the true mystery of who God is. This is the worship of the works of our hands, which worship steals our wonder at who God is, and what God has done.

Wendell Berry, the great farmer-poet of our time, seems to always help me to return to that sense of wonder. Here’s one of his poems of amused rebellion against an idol-worshipping world. +AMDG+

Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front

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.

Hat tip to htmlgiant. Fair warning: they’re periodically vulgar, and generally obtuse.

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6 Responses to On how spring brings out the Wendell Berry in us

  1. Virgil Kaulius says:

    Interesting mix of disparate content there Mike,
    at least to my mind?! Seems it appeals to yours….

    Where some of that takes my discernment, would
    revolve around some considerations like:

    First, we Xians part company with the Hebrew theology
    of the “Father” to them, but “Trinity” to us.

    Secondly, Jesus Himself TOLD us to use the term ABBA!
    (We didn’t create this, we were advised it.)

    Third, we thrive in contemporary Catholicism on a
    simplistic Fundamentalism of a sick kind!
    When in reality -not theory- we have so much depth, that the average Pew-Sitter will never even hear of before being born to the hereafter! (Darn!)

    Fourth, this Berry quote to me is childish, and
    therefore at the mature adult level, irrelevant:
    the decades old CD, done by a High Schooler trumps
    this in the “Wear Sunscreen” hit!!!

    Lastly, Berry here, is under-represented for his real
    depth, which the current Green Movement capitalizes
    on: throw at us the short profound paragraph with
    the opening line “We cannot live harmlessly.
    To live we must daily break the body and
    shed the blood of Creation….”

    “Be The Change Earth Alliance” quotes Berry heavily!

  2. Brandon says:

    Wow. This poem is amazing. Thanks!

  3. Michae! Magree, SJ says:

    Brandon and Nathan – glad you enjoyed this.
    Virgil – Thanks for the comments. I’m not sure I understand them all. Let me start with #4. I think that what you interpret as “childishness” in this poem is part of the narrator’s tone. I think in part it is meant to be humorous; you notice that the poem is entitled “Mad Farmer Liberation Front,” a joke comparing the Kentucky poet with impoverished natives from Chiapas.
    As for #2: there’s nothing wrong with the term “Abba,” obviously, but the danger that Lustiger points out is that “Abba, Father” was supposed to give a new tone, a new aspect to the understanding of God that already existed in Israel. It was not supposed to (and for 1600 years, did not) give permission to start making God look like a kindly old man. Nothing against kindly old men, of course.
    By the way, you are too kind in saying that this post has disparate content! If I was grading my own post as a homework assignment in my class, I would write on it, “Focus!” So, thanks for putting up with the random flotsam of a high-school teacher’s fourth-quarter brain.

  4. Virgil Kaulius says:

    Mike: thanks! And, no matter what you write,
    know it will be loved, because you write from
    the basis of love!
    Thanks always!

    “Truth can never be at odds with faith
    because God is the source of all truth:
    to find truth is to find God.”

  5. I definitely want to read more on that site soon. By the way, pretty nice design that site has, but don’t you think it should be changed from time to time?

    Mia Cliptown

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