Tag Archives: Wendell Berry

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!

Whatever is foreseen in joy

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

~ Wendell Berry, from A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997

Some sabbath poems

Came across these during some morning “fun” (i.e. non-assignment) reading this morning.

II

I dream of a quiet man
who explains nothing and defends
nothing, but only knows
where the rarest wildflowers
are blooming, and who goes,
and finds that he is smiling
not by his own will.

* * *

IV

What consolation it is, after
the explanations and the predictions
of further explanations still
to come, to return unpersuaded
to the woods, entering again
the presence of the blessed trees.
A tree forms itself in answer
to its place and to the light.
Explain it how you will, the only
thing explainable will be
your explanation. There is
in the woods on a summer’s
morning, birdsong all around
from guess where, nowhere
that rigid measure which predicts
only humankind’s demise.

(Both from “Sabbaths 1999” in Wendell Berry’s Given: Poems)

Today Yesterday

Things went well today yesterday, I think, other than a few mishaps and distractions.

I was inspired by the Wendell Berry-inspired workshop at last week’s conference to speak about the implications for creation care that arise out of scripture.  The Bible does not have a green agenda; if it has any agenda, it’s a redemptive one, and there are implications for our view of creation in that.  My main points:

1.  Genesis 1: God looked at everything he created and saw that it was “very good”.  He never took that back.  The natural world isn’t just incidental to our creation, but is good in and of itself.

At the fall human relationship with the rest of creation was broken, which may well be why we find ourselves where we are environmentally.

2.  The created world is in some sense the voice of God (see Romans 1:18-20–“general revelation”).  I wondered if our current abusive approach to nature isn’t a new way of “suppressing the truth” about God.

3.  The redemptive work of the cross of Christ is for all of creation (Colossians 1:19-20; Ephesians 1:10; Romans 8:19-23)–if we expect to come out of the future resurrection with transformed bodies and yet still be ourselves, it’s reasonable, I think, to expect the same for creation.

It didn’t take long to realize that this was a HUGE subject and a couple of hours of preparation wasn’t giving it nearly enough and it was probably too much to cram into one sermon (especially when I had less time than usual).  It deserves a series, but that’s difficult to do when I only speak twice a month and in the very near future I will start to be bumped from the schedule for candidating pastors.

Oh well.  Live and learn.

I was thinking this week and again after this sermon about what pastors do if they realize they have spoken in error in a sermon.  I made a modern-day analogy a couple of weeks ago when speaking on 1 Corinthians 8 (the “strong”, the “weak” and meat sacrificed to idols) and it occurred to me this week that perhaps my analogous example was a poor one (I’ve decided it wasn’t).  After Sunday’s service I was talking to Phil and realized that perhaps I had made some lazy word choices that might have negative implications (it didn’t help that I was trimming the sermon as I spoke).

Now both of those instances are minor.  But what about a more serious error?  Do you just ignore it?  Bring it up next Sunday?  Issue a retraction?  Fix the error with the following sermons?  An interesting question.  (It is for me, anyway.)  Of course, I’m learning that not everything can be said in one sermon (or even a couple of sermons), so perhaps it’s possible to develop a progression of thought that deals with whatever has gone before.

(Have I ever posted about a sermon before?  I’ve been reluctant to do so.  Still am.  But I felt like posting something.)