Jayber Crow: “Did Jesus put on our flesh that we might despise it?”

I’ve just started reading Wendell Berry’s novel Jayber Crow. I’m going in with high expectations, so I hope I’m not disappointed. I’ve come across some good bits so far, though:

“A window opening on nothing but the blank sky was endlessly attractive to me; if I watched long enough, a bird or a cloud would appear within the frame, and I watched with patience. A window that looked out into a tree was a source of inexpressible happiness, for it permitted me to observe the foraging of the birds and the life history of leaves.” (34)

An odd thing to quote, I suppose, if it wasn’t for the fact that it is true of me as well.

Later, the main character (Jayber Crow) is thinking through what he thought was a call to preach. He thinks back to the orphanage he was at (The Good Shepherd) and the Bible college he’s at now (Pigeonville College) and how his views don’t seem to line up with those of his teachers.

“I took to studying the ones of my teachers who were also preachers, and also the preachers who came to speak in the chapel and at various exercises. In most of them I saw the old division of body and soul that I had known at The Good Shepherd. The same rift ran through everything at Pigeonville College; the only difference was that I was able to see it more clearly, and to wonder at it. Everything bead was laid on the body, and everything good was credited to the soul. It scared me a little when I realized that I saw it the other way around. If the soul and body really were divided, then it seemed to me that all the worst sins—hatred and anger and self-righteousness and even greed and lust—came from the soul. But these preachers I’m talking about all thought that the soul could do no wrong, but always had its face washed and its pants on and was in agony over having to associate with the flesh and the world. And yet these same people believed in the resurrection of the body.” (49)

Exactly. This is the way the old dualistic Gnostic heresy—spiritual world=good, physical world=bad—creeps in. Jayber wonders, “Did Jesus put on our flesh that we might despise it?” (50) What a great question!

7 thoughts on “Jayber Crow: “Did Jesus put on our flesh that we might despise it?”

  1. Jeff

    You make me want to read this book! Profoundly said, as is usually the case for Wendell Berry.

    I’d like to see a thorough integrated view. Humans are most certainly not just their minds or souls, nor are we just our bodies, but I’ve never seen a good articulation of how we’re integrated, and how that relates to or differs from other views.

  2. Toni

    When God talks about making man in His image, my sense is that we are a representation of the triune God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. So in the same way we possess one aspect that rules and directs, creates and designs, another that is a physical presence that works in ordinary matter and a third that is not bound by the physical in the same way the other 2 are. I would absolutely see that all 3 aspects of what go to make a man are representative of our God, and each essential to our wholeness. And (just thinking aloud here) I wonder if this is why it’s so impoprtant for us to have bodies after our ressurrection – would we be incomplete and disfunctional as beings, no longer representing our creator – if we did not?

    To me it seems completely obvious – who would need to read that in a book?

    One of the odd things in the light of this is how we pray (and I’m guilty of this too). If prayer is talking to God, why to we address the individual bits? I don’t address you as though I am talking to the mind of Marc Vandersluys, nor do I ask your spirit things. Certainly God is much greater than we are, but just as we don’t understand our own unity, I wonder if we fail to grasp how integrated the triune Godhead is?

  3. Marc

    Certainly nobody would need to read this book to find a theology of being human. It’s a novel and these lines are largely incidental to the larger story (at least, as far as I can tell).

    I suspect, from the little I know of Berry, is that he sees goodness and purpose in the physical world in a way that many evangelicals do not. The old hymn, “This world is not my home, I’m just passing through,” is not taken to mean “the world” in the sense of sinful, fallen creation, but in the sense of the physical world itself. There may yet be an undercurrent of some of this in the novel (I haven’t finished it yet).

    So, I hear what you say, Toni. It may be clear to you, but for many it’s not so clear. Many don’t think about what we mean by resurrection and what Jesus’ resurrection body has to tell us about these things.

  4. Toni

    Hi Marc, I just came back to apologise because in retrospect I thought my comment might appear rather rude, which was obviously the case! Sorry. There’s probably a bunch of subtleties that I’ve failed to understand, but things like this and predestination/free will don’t seem difficult except because we want the answers to be complex and obscure. Man’s desire to polarise and protect ‘special knowledge’.

    But as you know, I’m no evangelical, nor hopefully, inclined to gnosticism (or any other ….ism).

  5. Marc

    Actually, I didn’t think your comment came across rudely. I thought we were mostly on the same page.

    I’m intrigued now by your claim that you’re not an evangelical. I did not know that. I’m curious to know what that word means to you. 🙂

  6. Toni

    Haven’t we talked a little about this already? http://tertl.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/where-does-charismatic-stop-and.html

    Having done a bit more research, I see that evangelical might well be different things in North America and the UK. Over here, in *my* past, evangelical has tended to mean traditional, luke-warm, distinctly non-fundamentalist, holding strongly to it’s own traditions, being afraid of the involvement of the Holy Spirit. It seems to have sold it’s birthright for a mess of intellectual and traditional potage, and *seemed* terribly like the other mainstream traditions, but with a different set of arbitrtary rules. I’ve realised that I wrote traditional twice – it was tempting to find another word, but for me, that sums it up.

    That’s a rather negative take on things. My manifesto for a church is that it is sensitive to the Holy Spirit, that it is bible-believing and rooted in that: not tied to traditions and particular ways or forms of working together, but will try to find the best form for the situation provided it has some form of biblical credibility. Such a church will be sacrificially involved in the community and will try to shape itself in a way that both reaches out while building up those that are part of the church. It will also see itself linked to other churches in the area of all denominations and work with them at all levels. There is a natural tendency in all of us to settle, but for me, the model of church is very much like that of the people of Israel in the desert, following the cloud where ever it took them, not that I think we’re being punished for disobedience, but that we’ve not yet reached our natural home.

    To me, it was curious to see that the charismatic movement and fundamentalism were considered evangelical movements in the US: both would/have been rejected by the majority of evangelicals in the UK at one time (hard line fundies probably still would be rejected). And as my Anglo-Catholic friend Eddie argued in that thread I linked, there are also plenty of Roman Catholic charismatics, and to see the charismatic movement as being an outpost of evangelicalism is inaccurate, even though it may be so in the US.

    So a North American might classify me as evangelical by their terms of reference, but that’s not where I feel I sit, even though I’d have a lot of common theology with them.

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