Evening Poetry, January 26

“Sabbaths-1979, IV”

by Wendell Berry

The bell calls in the town
Where forebears cleared the shaded land
And brought high daylight down
To shine on field and trodden road.
I hear, but understand
Contrarily, and walk into the woods.
I leave labor and load,
Take up a different story.
I keep an inventory
Of wonders and of uncommercial goods.

I climb up through the field
That my long labor has kept clear.
Projects, plans unfulfilled
Waylay and snatch at me like briars,
For there is no rest here
Where ceaseless effort seems to be required,
Yet fails, and spirit tires
With flesh, because failure
And weariness are sure
In all that mortal wishing has inspired.

I go in pilgrimage
Across an old fenced boundary
To wildness without age
Where, in their long dominion,
The trees have been left free.
They call the soil here “Eden”; slants and steeps
Hard to stand straight upon
Even without a burden.
No more a perfect garden,
There’s an immortal memory that it keeps.

I leave work’s daily rule
And come here to this restful place
Where music stirs the pool
And from high stations of the air
Fall notes of wordless grace,
Strewn remnants of the primal Sabbath’s hymn.
And I remember here
A tale of evil twined
With good, serpent and vine
And innocence of evil’s stratagem.

I let that go a while,
For it is hopeless to correct
By generations’ toil,
And I let go my hopes and plans
That no toil can perfect.
There is no vision here but what is seen:
White bloom nothing explains.

But a mute blessedness
Exceeding all distress,
The fresh light stained a hundred shades of green.

Uproar of wheel and fire
That has contained us like a cell
Opens and lets us hear
A stillness longer than all time
Where leaf and song fulfill
The passing light, pass with the light, return,
Renewed, as in rhyme.
This is no human vision
Subject to our revision;
God’s eye holds every leaf as light is worn.

Ruin is in place here:
The dead leaves rotting on the ground,
The live leaves in the air
Are gathered in a single dance
That turns them round and round.
The fox cub trots his almost pathless path
As silent as his absence.
These passings resurrect
A joy without defect,
The life that steps and sings in ways of death.

You can find this poem in The Selected Poems of Wendell Berry.

What I’m Reading for Spiritual Growth (Savoring Sunday)

Sunday might always be a bittersweet day for me. Christians have long called it the Sabbath: a day to attend church and rest. And until a few years ago, I went along with this. It was the way I was raised, and as a person in a ministry family, it certainly didn’t feel like a Sabbath. It was a religious work day, which left me feeling exhausted, with a headache, and with no rest at all before starting the whole week over again.

When I went through my midlife crisis several years ago, (yes, I said it!) I decided I had to stop doing some of the things I’d been doing for so long out of duty, guilt and because I wanted to please others. And church was one of those things. Jung talked about the two halves of life and I completely identified with this:

One cannot live the afternoon of life according to the program of life’s morning; for what was great in the morning will be of little importance in the evening, and what in the morning was true will at evening become a lie.

So do I miss church? Not really, no. And that makes me sad. I feel guilt associated with not missing it, as well as a wistfulness that I’m not one of the people who feel happy and a part of everything at church. It might be my introverted-ness and detest of crowds and doing things as a group. It might be my rebellious streak that doesn’t want to “turn to your neighbor and tell them…” after the worship service is over. It might be that there really are some people better suited to organized religion and I’m not one of them.

But I still believe. I still search. I still pray. I still am awed by creation and by my little place in it. But, at the risk of sounding arrogant, I feel like I’ve expanded my views and I’m not afraid of other people’s ideas about spirituality, or the possibility that they might influence me.

Perhaps I need their influence! In my yoga teacher training class this past Tuesday, our teacher was talking about the size of our galaxy, how many stars are estimated to be there, how fast light moves, etc, and how small and insignificant, yet important each of us is. And I thought of the passage in Psalm 8 (verses 3-5, NLT)

When I look at the night sky and see the work of your fingers—
    the moon and the stars you set in place—
 what are mere mortals that you should think about them,
    human beings that you should care for them?
Yet you made them only a little lower than God
    and crowned them with glory and honor.

It was marvelous to connect a Biblical passage to a yoga teaching! I’ve been surprised to find I can be reading a book on meditation from a Buddhist teacher, and it doesn’t in any way contradict or put down the religion I grew up in. Instead, there is respect shown and I continue to discover many correlations between various religions and belief systems. If anything, I’ve been humbled in what I thought I knew, in how people of one belief might treat someone from another belief. (Christians have a lot to answer for!)

In this period of my life, I turn to books, as I always have done, to help tether me to what I believe, as well as to challenge what I think I believe. I’ve been reading much wider than I did as a younger person, and it’s been very healing as I find the inner resistance, the prejudices, the tendency to be on my guard and then learn to listen anyway.

I have fewer answers than I once thought I had. The pride of earlier years, the cut and dried way of looking at things, has given way to viewing my neighbor through a gentler, more compassionate lens.

So many, myself included, have been wounded by the church’s (or other religion’s) intolerance, rigidity, hypocrisy, and self-righteousness. We may not go back to the way things were, yet we still believe.

For people like myself, or for anyone who is spiritually aware and a seeker, here are a few books you might benefit from.

A Path With Heart: A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life by Jack Kornfield was a book recommended to our Spiritual Health & Healing class from Yoga Veda Institute in the fall. I love Jack’s kind, clear writing style, and how he weaves practicality into each spiritual practice. I’m not finished with this one yet, but I’ve gotten something from each chapter.

Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom by John O’ Donohue. Many of you are familiar with the late John O’ Donohue and I often share his poetry here on the blog. Everything this man wrote is worth taking the time to read, and this book is no exception! He infuses his poetic, imaginative, nature- inspired way of seeing into everything he writes, combining it with a rich, philosophical intelligence and a spiritual depth that I haven’t read elsewhere. And beauty is everywhere.

Thirst by Mary Oliver is one of her many collections with a spiritual bent. Her poetry is clear, direct, true, and always asking and seeking out the Creator. If I’m particularly troubled in spirit, her poetry helps me find the heart words my head cannot. You know what I mean, right?

Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God is a collection I discovered a few years ago, and read continuously. His unique, fluid, broad perspective on life, on the Divine gives me courage whenever I feel my faith flounder, whenever I think I’ve gone too far away, I remind myself of the fact that I’m circling around, that I’ll return.

I could go on, but these are four to start with and you can be sure I’ll add to this list over time. I’d love to know if you’re reading a book on spirituality or philosophy, or perhaps a self-help or personal growth book. Please share in the comments below and have a great week!