Wendell Berry and the Given Life
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.
Berry 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 audio edition of this book can be downloaded via Audible.
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For someone like me, who has read snippets of essays and poems by Wendell Berry over the years and who has known – somewhere deep – that I ought to be reading him more, Ragan Sutterfield’s “Wendell Berry and the Given Life” is the perfect introduction to the life, thought and work of this 20th and 21st-century icon.
The slender volume is a lovingly compiled synthesis of this Kentucky farmer-philosopher’s writing, drawing amply from his poetry, essays and fiction and illustrating Berry’s vision and hope for a more fully moral, ethical and spiritual life.
Sutterfield writes beautifully himself, and he guides the reader gently through 12 separate but integrated themes in Berry’s work, ending with the author’s own argument that Berry should, indeed, be considered a prophet in the line of John the Baptist, St. Francis of Assisi, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Jr. Berry’s work certainly falls into this prophetic mode, although the reader is left with no doubt that Berry would eschew such a moniker. But no argument here, and to the list I would add Henry David Thoreau, as Berry seems a natural extension of that naturalist and philosopher.
In the end, I was left with a couple of overarching thoughts about this book. The first is that we so desperately need his voice today. The second is that I am way behind on reading Berry, and I am thankful to Sutterfield for the introduction.
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