Wendell Berry is one of my heroes. I can still remember the first time I heard of Wendell Berry: It was the end of a very long and painful semester that I spent in San Francisco when I was in college. I had spent much of my time at the Westmont College Urban Studies program (an excellent program, by the way) feeling very isolated and alone, and not entirely sure of who I was and what I was doing there. A fellow mis-fit student read a poem by Wendell Berry on our final class meeting at the close of the semester, and I just sat their at my desk with tears on my cheeks. Somehow, I felt less alone, and Wendell Berry has been helping me to feel more sane and more grounded ever since.
Here's a link to the text of Manifesto: Mad Farmer Liberation Front. It still gets me every time. The line "Be joyful though you have considered all the facts" is one of my mantras.
Another poem of his that I love is called "The Peace of Wild Things."
The Peace of Wild Things
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
— Wendell Berry
I have devoured and loved many of his books, particularly Jayber Crow, Hannah Coulter, Fidelity, What Are People For? and Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community. His writing on the current political and ecological situation in America is prophetic and challenging. The image I've included is a portrait by Robert Shetterly, the artist behind the brilliant series entilted "Americans Who Tell the Truth." Each portrait in the series includes a quote. Wendell Berry's entry, which includes multiple quotes of his and a biography, can be found here. The quote chosen for Berry's portrait says:
The most alarming sign of the state of our society now is that our leaders have the courage to sacrifice the lives of young people in war but have not the courage to tell us that we must be less greedy and wasteful.
I can't think of a truer statement.
Wendell Berry challenges me to join into a "membership" of inter-reliance with my neighbors and the land. He helps me think "outside the box" of what the word "economy" means, and how I might be a more true and fair steward of my local economy. He reminds me of what it looks like to love this country of America so much that I will not let my voice of outrage be silenced. He is uniquely able to pierce through the hazy dream that the culture of materialism and apathy has lulled me into, and rouse me not only to protest, but to dance as well.
For an excellent collection of Berry's writings that are available on the web, check out this site (unauthorized, as Mr. Berry is outspoken in his dislike of computers). An excellent chapter of his book Sex, Economy, Freedom and Community can be found here: "Christianity and the Survival of Creation." Another favorite of mine is taken from the same book, "Peaceableness Toward Enemies." It was written in response to the first Gulf War, but is every bit as pertinent today.