As a pastor I am in the business of words. Almost every public appearance I
make in my work is structured around the task of composing and delivering
words that are meant to encourage or admonish some assemblage of God’s
people. I like words and I like this work. But I also need to hear the sound of
voices other than my own. It is my guess that you, the members of this
congregation, might feel the same way. So with this in mind I want to
dedicate this space this month to someone else’s words.
When I get tired of talking, I especially like listening to the poetry of
Wendell Berry. The poem below has been meaningful to me over the last
months as my life has been marked by certain signs of aging. I don’t mean to
be morbid and I realize that the pacemaker that now resides just under my left
clavicle or the c-pap machine that now dwells on my bedside table do not
mean that I am on death’s door, but they have in their own way reminded me
of the limits of this life. It’s hard to face the truth of these limits. It can easily
send us to a place of melancholy where we feel the pain of impending loss.
But facing life’s limits can also be an energizing and liberating experience as
we take that truth and resolve to live fully in whatever space we have left to
live. Berry’s poem makes the latter choice. So I share it with you this month in
the hope that what has encouraged me will also encourage you.
No, no, there is no going back
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that you have belonged to.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And so you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.
Wendell Berry, A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997, poem #1 1993