October 29, 2020

Wendell Berry: The Real Work


The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.

• • •

by Wendell Berry
from Standing by Words: Essays


  1. “when we no longer know which way to go
    we have come to our real journey” (Wendell Berry)

    brings to mind, this:
    ““When you come to a place where you have to left or right,’ says Sister Ruth, ‘go straight ahead.”
    (Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography)

  2. “The truth is a pathless land.” — Jiddu Krishnamurti

    • “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” – Jesus

      • Amen,Paul. “”The truth is a pathless land”??? Jesus’ path for us is sure and true. If someone says they are the way, rest assured that you will know it. “You will know the truth and the truth shall set you free”. Jiddis’ stuff is just eastern nonsense when measured against the truth of Scripture

        • Paul & OldProphet,
          I don’t deny that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. But he is not the means to anything but himself.

          Jesus is the way – that leads to himself; Jesus is the truth — that is himself; Jesus is the life — that is his life.

          I don’t trod on Jesus to get somewhere else; I don’t look for a truth that is not Jesus himself; I don’t seek my own life, but only his. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; and Jesus is the end, not the means to any other end–hence: “The truth is a pathless land” (this is not what Krisnamurti meant, but I’m kidnapping it for my own purposes [Insert Smiley Face HERE]).

          • Okay Robert. I still love you. When Jesus says that He is a light to my path and a lantern to my feet, then that doesn’t sound vast but specific and trustworthy?????

          • I guess my emocons don’t work either. Oregon Ducks by 4!

          • I appreciate that you still love me, OldProphet. Most others I’ve know have not found it so easy.

            Our experience, OP, is different. For me, God has most often come in the darkness, and quietly. Probably because he knows I scare easy.

        • “eastern nonsense?”

          Those matters about which we obviously know very little best not to speak.

      • Btw, Wendell Berry borrowed the title for this poem, first published in 1983, from the journal of the same name, published in 1980 by that hoary old Zen Buddhist and beatnik poet, Gary Snyder.

        • Whenever reading Berry, I think it’s a good idea to remember that his poetry and prose both are written around the great concern he has for finding ways for humanity to live at peace and in harmony with the earth and Creation. This is why his poem shares its title with Snyder’s journals, which were written with similar concerns. The real work for Berry is finding a way for human beings to live lightly and sustainably in the center of the living ecosystem, and if we lose sight of this overriding concern, we miss much of what he is saying in his poetry.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Jesus Juke!

        • Am I guilty of ‘juking’? I didn’t mean to be so heavy handed. In fact, I thought Jesus’ words on the nature of the path to truth stood in nice contrast to the words of Krishnamurti and would add to the discussion. As usual, Robert F graced us with some more thoughtful clarification and insight. Maybe in your vigilance to out all ‘christianese’ you miss the subtlety of the intent.

          • Hey, Paul, I’m with you. John 14:6 seems a good complement to Robert F’s Krishnamurti quote. I mean, if Jesus is himself the path, perhaps the truth is a pathless land after all.

            And the Krishnamurti quote is a good complement to the Wendell Berry poem.

            Have a great new year!

          • Paul, I expected someone to mention that text in connection with the Krishnamurti quote. What could be more appropriate than quoting the powerful words of Jesus in the comment section of a blog dedicated to pursuing a Jesus-shaped spirituality? Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.

    • Right there with you Robert. The reality of knowing Jesus, the Christ, who we refer to and who referred to Himself as the way, is a life’s journey much bigger than catch phrases and quotes. Certainty in life, often expressed in a trite platitude, is a young man’s protection and an old man’s prison. The negation of so much chatter into the silence at the heart of everything leads to a better knowing and seeing of the sublime mystery that draws us. Not trying to sound ‘deep’ here, just trying to get at what I think is the point of the post which I think you got at in many fewer words.

      • ChriS~ Much appreciate your comment and many others here. Good to know that “the silence at the heart of everything” is a friendly thought to so many. We may actually get to the 21st century if we keep this up.

  3. Occasionally we need to be still and know, to approach a place and time when we allow the master to teach and take control and realize that it really is not about us at all.

  4. Thanks for this, Mike. Wonderful. Perfect for this coming Sunday’s appointed Epistle and Gospel lessons, too (the prologues to Ephesians and John’s Gospel), which give us a cosmic vision of God’s creative and redeeming purposes. Who can understand that…?? As impeded rocks (intellectually, at least), all we can do is sing our ‘Alleluias’…

  5. Awesome. “Let your words be few…” No wonder Eugene Peterson likes Wendell Berry so much. Two “word smiths”.

  6. That’s good poetry right there.

  7. Timely.
    Thank you.

  8. Thanks for this. Wonderful meditation.

  9. That’s it!