By Rev. Anna Blaedel
Hear these words from Wendell Berry:
“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 woodrake 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.”
Friends. These words speak truth to me. They nourish me. They remind me of truths I know: the reason Sabbath is a commandment, not a suggestion; the ineffable value of wild spaces, and the irrevocable losses, human and non- in colonizing and occupying and privatizing and degrading places and spaces; the affective ways in which moments of freedom can be felt, glimpsed, known in our bodies, and how moments like that can sustain us in movements responding to life taxed by grief.
But. And. I’m also haunted by the danger lurking in these words, a danger that feels wedded to white supremacy’s capitalist capacity to think it possible to escape grief, to retreat from raging, rising waters to sit only by still waters, to imagine freedom coming in and through nothing less than watching woodrakes resting and great herons feeding. It’s a little more complicated than that. Retreat from life’s messiness may be necessary for sustained engagement, but faithful living does indeed keep calling us into sustained engagement with the mess.
So, hear these words from Andrea Gibson:
“life doesn’t rhyme
life is poetry
all the world’s a stage
but the stage is a meditation mat
you tilt your head back
when your heart is broken you plant seeds in the cracks
and you pray for rain
and you teach your sons and daughters
there are sharks in the water
but the only way to survive
is to breathe deep
And, as a crucial complement to Wendell Berry, hear these words from the Lorde—Audre Lorde—also writing from the question of how to continue when despair looms large, and grief overpowers:
“I want to live the rest of my life, however long or short, with as much sweetness as I can decently manage, loving all the people I love, and doing as much as I can of the work I still have to do.
I use the power of dreams that are now impossible, not totally believing in them nor their power to become real, but recognizing them as templates for a future within which my labors can play a part.
I require the nourishment of art and spirituality in my life, and they lend strength and sunlight to all the endeavors that give substance to my living. It is the same intensity with which I experience poetry, a student’s first breakthrough, the posted photograph of a sunrise taken from my winter dawn window, the intensity of loving. If living as a poet—living on the front lines—has ever had meaning, it has meaning now. Vulnerability as armor.
For me, living fully means living with maximum access to my experience and power, loving, and doing work in which I believe. It means writing my poems, telling my stories, and speaking out of my most urgent concerns and against the many forms of anti-life surrounding us. I consider this to be a political decision as well as a life-saving one. This is my life. Each hour is a possibility not to be banked. These days are not a preparation for living, some necessary but essentially extraneous divergence from the main course of my living. They are my life. Those of us who live our battles in the flesh must know ourselves as our strongest weapon in the most gallant struggle of our lives. I work, I love, I rest, I see and learn. And I report. These are my givens.”
What, dear ones, are your givens, for living this one wild and precious life? What labors of love are you participating in, or aware of, or lured by? What dreams, now impossible, serve as templates for a future in which y/our labors play a part? What is nourishing your life, propelling you and giving life? What nourishes your courage and conviction to breathe deep, and dive?
May it be so.