Wendell Berry and the Given Life

Wendell Berry and the Given Life March 27, 2017

(Paul Signac, Concarneau - Op. 211, 1881; Source: Wikimedia, PD-Old-100).
(Paul Signac, Concarneau – Op. 211, 1881; Source: Wikimedia, PD-Old-100).


It’s been a very long and anxious couple of weeks. I thought I’d give you a running report of what’s going on here.

Right now I’m trying to find insurance that is actually affordable, but that doesn’t seem possible under Obamacare. I’ve spent about three weeks looking through the alternative to figure out what would be most cost effective for Type-1 Diabetes. I haven’t gotten any answers, because transparency was never something the insurance companies strove for. That didn’t change under their ACA monopoly, instead it gave them further license to hide their benefits from customers.

51AQ9pK0t4L__SX327_BO1,204,203,200_I might have a one month lapse in coverage as I dig further into the details. $500 a month (not counting the additional undisclosed amounts of money I’ll spend on insulin) is a lot to gamble on something that might not even deliver the services I need. Yes, if you’re wondering, the PayPal donation button can still be found on the right hand side of this webpage!

Amidst all this madness I’m also working on finishing a book translation about how Polish communists used nationalist legitimation to stay in power. And here you probably thought that nationalism is only an alt-right thing, when the left has been using it as well all along. I’m also gearing up to get back to translating the most important philosophical/phenomenological work, Philosophy of Drama, by Jozef Tischner, the chaplain of Solidarity. Right now I’m reading Heidegger’s Being and Time on the side as preparation–to be followed by Levinas’ Otherwise Than Being.

I still have to buy my plane tickets for the Fordham Catholic Imagination conference, which takes place in late April. I’ll be staying in Manhattan for about four to five days. Catch me if you’re in the area.

Living a good and healthy life is something that is extremely difficult under our circumstances, despite the fact that the USA is the richest country in the world. Go figure.

Wendell Berry is someone who’s been thinking about the good life, frequently by circumventing all the wonderful inventions of the contemporary nation-state. His influence upon Catholic thinkers, especially from the Communio camp, is immeasurable. I first came across his work while reading David L. Schindler’s groundbreaking Heart of the World, Center of the Church: Communio Ecclesiology, Liberalism, and Liberation. He also looms large in Schindler’s Ordering Love: Liberal Societies and the Memory of God. Berry has even published a couple of articles in the journal itself.

If you’re not familiar with the work of this influential Christian thinker then Franciscan Media has your back covered with Wendell Berry and the Given Life:

51AgYf5d5OL__SX311_BO1,204,203,200_We drive to work on the stored energy of ten thousand years of sunlight. Our daily bread seems to generate miraculously from store shelves. And our communities can be connected with a billion ones and zeros over fiber optic cables. For us, the idea of being a creature can seem passé. Yet in this lonely world of mastery, in a time so dominated by human desire and design that it has been dubbed the “anthropocene,” the human age, many of us feel that we are missing some essential truth about who we are.

The glimpses of this truth come when we lose cell reception on a long hike in the forest and our eyes are lifted to the simple marvel of trees. We feel this truth when we take up a shovel and sense the satisfying heave of dirt as we plant a modest garden. We hear this truth when we tune out the traffic and listen to the song sparrow’s melody, eavesdropping on a beauty that serves no human economy. In all this we hear a whisper of the truth that we are creatures—and we long to live in this reality. But how can we, when we have moved so far from our life source in the soil?

For the past 50 years, Wendell Berry has been helping seekers chart a return to the practice of being creatures. Through his essays, poetry and fiction, Berry has repeatedly drawn our attention to the ways in which our lives are gifts in a whole economy of gifts.

untitledBerry presents us with the sort of coherent vision for the lived moral and spiritual life that we need now.  His work helps us remember our givenness and embrace our life as creatures. His insights flow from a life and practices, and so it is a vision that can be practiced and lived—it is a vision that is grounded in the art of being a creature.

Wendell Berry and the Given Life  articulates his vision for the creaturely life and the Christian understandings of humility and creation that underpin it.

The discussion of givenness has clear connections to Catholic thinkers who engage with the phenomenological tradition. For example, see the account of the discussion of the gift between Catholic phenomenologist Jean-Luc Marion and his former teacher Jacques Derrida in Rethinking God as gift.

I also think of the classical account of potlatch in Marcel Mauss’ The Gift: The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Societies, which basically got the whole modern discussion of the gift rolling in the early 20th century.

41IIr8lkdsL__SX348_BO1,204,203,200_Wendell Berry from the New Collected Poems

from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

…Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection

I should also add that Wendell Berry is both on my TOP10 Living Religious Poets and TOP10 Living Religious Novelists lists.

Please consider making a donation to this blog through the donation button on the upper right side of its homepage, because those insurance costs are scary.

Stay in touch! Like Cosmos the in Lost on Facebook:

Browse Our Archives