By the road

It catches up with all of us – and is perhaps the chief reason that we’re all apparently afraid, at different times, of sabbath, of the “sound of silence”.

Wendell Berry has written “If the Muse leaves me alone, I leave her alone.” He doesn’t try to manufacture poetry. But he does allow for the weekly “Sabbath” – intentional space into which “unintended thoughts” might find space for expression – contemplation, meditation, reflection – sometimes celebratory, sometimes consolatory, sometimes gratefully, sometimes intercessory, sometimes penitently, sometimes prayerful lament.

Yes: life, in and around us, catches up with all of us, and we wonder about our contributions, for good and for ill, towards our contemporary “mechanistic” whole. And with or without any specifically religious motivation we rediscover our human need to pray.

“That one is sometimes able”, Berry continues, “among the disturbances of the present world, to wander into some good and beautiful whereabouts of the woods, grow quiet, and come to rest is a gift, a wonder, and a kind of grace. Though associated with a particular day, this is a possibility that may present itself at any time.”

Life catches up with us – sometimes just a word or a name at a time:

Afghanistan, cancer, drowned, oil, Syria, carbon, child, gunman, Paris, fire …

And we wonder “how shall we pray?” though we know in our heart of hearts that we’ll only ever learn to pray, or know what to hope for, or what to do, or work at, or for, or how to change, or what to say, when we acknowledge our need of space for “unintended thoughts”: for silence, for sabbath day.

(Massachusetts Avenue at Rock Creek Park, Sunday morning)

Here by the road where people are carried, with
or against their will, as on a river of burning oil
through a time already half consumed, how
shall we pray to escape the catastrophe
that we have not the vision to oppose and have
therefore deserved, and that many have desired?

Yet here in our moment in the ages of ages
amid the icons of fire from the maddened center
whirling out, we pray to be delivered from the blaze
that we have earned, that many desire. We pray
that the continent of love may be shaped within
the continent of power, here by the river of fire.

We pray for vision, though we die, to see
in our small imperfect love the Love of the ages
of ages, whose green tree yet stands amid the flames. May we
be as a song sung within the tree, though beside us
the river of oil flows, burning, and the sky is filled
with the whine of desire to burn and be burned in the fire.

Wendell Berry
This Day: Sabbaths VII, p94

What’s going on in this, just one of Wendell Berry’s reflections? What’s the Muse here drawing his sabbath-rested attention to? And ours too?

By the road.

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