This past week, a lot’s been on my mind. We’ve had struggles with our health insurance, my camera’s missing, I got my first speeding ticket (ever), a very good friend from highschool died a tragic and unexpected death…
It brought up a lot of memories from the past few years, of things dark and shadowed.
I appreciated meditating on the beatitudes in Matthew this morning–the gracious and compassionate heart portrayed there in all its tragic and paradoxical poetry.
And this evening I appreciated opening up an old book to this meditation on despair and life-giving surrender:
Song in a Year of Catastrophe
I began to be followed by a voice saying:
“It can’t last. It can’t last.
Harden yourself. Harden yourself.
Be ready. Be ready.”
“Go look under the leaves,”
it said, “for what is living there
is long dead in your tongue.”
And it said, “Put your hands
into the earth. Live close
to the ground. Learn the darkness.
Gather round you all
the things that you love, name
their names, prepare
to lose them. It will be
as if all you know were turned
around within your body.”
And I went and put my hands
into the ground, and they took root
and grew into a season’s harvest.
I looked behind the veil
of the leaves, and heard voices
that I knew had been dead
in my tongue years before my birth.
I learned the dark.
And still the voice stayed with me.
Walking in the early mornings,
I could hear it, like a bird
bemused among the leaves,
a mockingbird idly singing
in the autumn of catastrophe:
“Be ready. Be ready.
Harden yourself. Harden yourself.”
And I heard the sound
of a great engine pounding
in the air, and a voice asking:
“Change or slavery?
Hardship or slavery?”
and voices answering:
And I was afraid, loving
what I knew would be lost.
The the voice following me said:
“You have not yet come close enough.
Come nearer the ground. Learn
from the woodcock in the woods
whose feathering is a ritual
of the fallen leaves,
and from the nesting quail
whose speckling makes her hard to see
in the long grass.
Study the coat of the mole.
For the farmer shall wear
the greenery and the furrows
of his fields, and bear
the long standing of the woods.”
And I asked: “You mean a death, then?”
“Yes,” the voice said. “Die
into what the earth requires of you.”
Then I let go all holds, and sank
like a hopeless swimmer into the earth,
and at last came fully into the ease
and the joy of that place,
all my lost ones returning.
Wendell Berry, 1968. From Collected Poems, North Point Press.
In other news, check out my friend Gabe’s site, ’cause it’s looking to be great.