In Christianity Today, this blog’s reader and commenter Jake Meador writes about what urban Christians have to learn from Wendell Berry. Excerpt:
What I see in Berry, and what I’ve been learning to live out, little by little, is the centrality of worship to personal and communal health. By that I mean something like one of Clyde Kilby’s resolutions for mental health: “At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me.” In short, Berry has taught me to be grateful for Lincoln [Nebraska, where Meador lives], grateful for the particularities of the plains and her people. Before I read Berry, my relationship to my hometown was ambiguous at best. I didn’t hate it, but I certainly didn’t love it either. I had learned to tolerate it while counting down the days until graduation and the chance to move to bigger, more exciting pastures.
Berry has changed the way I see my home. The landscape became more beautiful. Now I can drive 15 minutes down Highway 77 toward Crete, passing farms and what’s left of the prairie, and the scene shoots straight through me. I can go on walks and feel the gusting winds off the Great Plains and welcome them with “unconsecrated relish,” to borrow a phrase from Berry. The gospel of Christ alone changes hearts, but God works through many means in his creation. And one of the mightiest means through which he’s done deep soul work in my life is through Berry.
That’s it! I have never been the sort of person who has the same sort of relationship to rural life that Berry does, in part because my own experiences there are different from Berry’s, and in part because I’m just not made that way. But Meador has put his finger on why Berry has become so important to me: he has taught me to see place — particular places, and Place itself — through different eyes. You don’t have to become a pastoralist agrarian to get in tune with Wendell Berry. You just have to learn to love your own place, and love it like you would love someone in your own family.
One reason I love to be in France is that the people here have such attachment to their places, even in the city. The boulanger where I buy my baguettes most mornings has come to recognize me now, and has a friendlier smile and manner than when I first started coming in nearly a month ago. Today I was walking with Lucas and Nora up a street in our neighborhood, and Lucas waved to the Algerian guy making frites in the frites shop. The guy waved back and smiled.
“You know him?” I said.
“Yeah, Mom and I come in here. He has an American girlfriend. He likes to speak English.”
This neighborhood is a village. Just like in New York City. Man, I love that.