An unworthy Deacon, named for the brother of God: James, striving to "work out his salvation with fear and trembling" within the Tradition (paradosis) of the Eastern Orthodox Faith. It is a strange and marvelous journey, and I am accompanied by the fourfold fruit of my fecundity. My wife, the Matushka or Diaconissa Sophia, is my beloved partner in the pursuit of Theosis, and she ranks me in every way.
The other evening my dear friend Rade handed me a book called Home Economics, which is a collection of essays written by one Wendell Berry, whom Rade described simply as an Agrarian.
I very much appreciate authors who can enlighten me to new and profound ideas and concepts...but especially so if they can accomplish this difficult task using simple and straight forward language, proving to me (as I've always believed) that one needn't baffle the simple masses with Ivy League phraseology in order to appear to be (and advertise yourself as) exceptionally complex, sophisticated, and so dad-burned smart.
I am currently reading his essay entitled "With Nature." In it he relates an encounter with a Hawk who was watching him while he was plowing a field (with horses, no less), and through that encounter he grew to a greater understanding of how we share and participate in all of nature. Thus made personally aware of the symbiotic relationship that even we humans in our human endeavors (often falsely called "unnatural") participate in with mice, horses, and Hawks, for instance. I loved the story he relates in which a group of people were removed in order to creat a "bird nature preserve" only to find that by so doing they had wiped out the livelihood of a host of species - the birds NEEDED the people.
He also notes the uniqueness of humanity (both good and bad) and writes the following:
In the hurry of technological progress, we have replaced some tools and methods that worked with some that do not work. But we also need culture-born instructions about who or what humans are and how and on what assumptions they should act. The Chain of Being, for instance - which gave humans a place between animals and angels in the order of Creation - is an old idea that has not been replaced by any adequate new on. It was simply rejected , and the lack of it leaves us without a definition.
Lacking that ancient definition, or any such definition, we do not know at what point to restrain or deny ourselves. We do not know how ambitious to be, what or how much we may safely desire, when or where to stop.
How very true, and I think more and more we are moving further and further away from any such definition. In fact, we have reached the point of not even believing that we need one anymore - and we deny the existance of there being any consequences.
I also connected this notion to theology and the rejection of the belief in the Church as an article of faith. The Church has become utterly invisible and theology has since gone utterly mad - in thousands of different and ever expanding directions with no end in sight: We do not know at what point to restrain or deny our theology (yes yes the Bible, you say...but consider how that "definition" has fared? More or less unity in the last 500 years?) We do not know how ambitious to be...we see either extremes of control by authorities or the complete lack of authority. What or how much we may safely desire...we have very many "christian" theologies that give blessings to all manner of what used to be called depravity and we also have all manner of "christian" theologies that despise the flesh thus restraining all manner of what ought to be called the "good life" as efficiently as any Marcionite Gnostic ever did. When or where to stop...yes when and where will it stop?
Yes I understand this was nothing near Mr. Berry's thinking - at least not specifically...but I think the overall concept is applicable and very likely even related historically and culturally.
As I set Home Economics back into my bookbag and disembarked off the bus to begin the long walk to my truck, something caught my eye. Perched majestically upon the pinnacle corner of the Levitz Home Furnishings department store in downtown Lynnwood, was a large and magnificent Bald Eagle. The contrast was stark...not a hint of green near the bird, just terribly bad 70's concrete architecture. People gathered to take photos (doomed to be ugly if they could not manage to get just the bird) and marvel while I - who commonly sees such wonderful birds on nearly every river drift - thought simply: "Hmmm...maybe he's trying to tell me something." I wonder...did I just hear that great big bird whisper: "We're waiting."
No, I am sure it was just me...but I couldn't help thinking about Wendell Berry's experience with his hawk as I hopped into my Trooper and drove past the now sad looking Eagle - both of us choking on concrete.
Thanks for this thought-provoking post. I had no idea there were actually agrarians left, and yes, this city gal from the Big Apple is one -- how else could I have loved living in the country lo these past 20 years?? And even though I kknow the Luddites lost their war with technology long ago -- and even though I know how dependent we all are on these collections of bits and bytes we all have -- I guess a part of me still hopes to see the Luddites win just *one.* Even now.
I LOVE Wendell Berry's articles - I've been reading Mother Earth News since I was a kid, and my dream is to one day have a small organic farm just big enough for a small CSA with some chickens and goats. Wendell Berry (as well as Barbara Kingsolver, who writes quite a bit on personal ecology and choosing local food sources) are kindred spirits.
Right now I'm reading "Building a Bridge to the 18th Century" by Neil Postman, and in it he admits to taking the accusation of Luddite to be a badge of honor. Basil- You are more than welcome to borrow the book once James is done with it. I've been reading every bit of Wendell Berry I can get my hands on, and it is making me want more and more to move to the country. So wa=hat do you think James? Should we find three pieces of land next to each other and have Arielle as a neighbor (if she'll have us?).
I'm all about the commune, man. Plus, James has all kinds of children to use as slave labor. Luckily, The Boy has been warned that if he wants to keep me around, he may have to eventually share space with various and sundry livestock and live on at least a couple acres. He seems to have taken it pretty well :) I could totally have my little farm in North Carolina (you can grow all year there!), but he unfortunately will have to move a few times before being somewhere permanent (that whole annoying post-doc --> tenured prof process).
I'm going to be posting pictures of my big ol' garden soon, once there's a little more to show.