Saturday, October 11, 2008

Just a few more thoughts on Wendell Berry

In 2005 an article appeared in Christian Century by Kyle Childress entitled "Good Work: Learning about Ministry from Wendell Berry." It was one of those pieces of writing that resonated with me in a deep heart centred way. It is a really lovely tribute to the insights of Wendell Berry and their application to ministry. But more than that it evoked for me everything I was coming to value about paying attention, learning to see in new ways, falling in love with what it is that I am truly seeing and not with my ideas of what I'm seeing.

Years ago my teacher Peter Erb opened up the world of Iris Murdoch, and through Murdoch Simone Weil, to me particularly their notion of the need to pay attention. Later I would read Danny Gregory's book Everyday Matters about how his return to drawing, particularly the drawing of his surroundings, helped him to find meaning and purpose and joy after an accident left his wife in a wheelchair.

It is hard work, paying attention. And it takes time. And it means learning to turn away from distractions. And it requires patience. In Thomas' teaching on prudence he talks about the need for docilitas, docility. Docility is a bad word in our culture but Thomas said that if you were going to make right judgements you couldn't prejudge a situation, you needed to allow the situation to inform you first. And that required being docile.

I taught for a year at a Catholic college where students were required to take a course in ethics and we read Josef Pieper's wonderful book, The Four Cardinal Virtues. One of the most delightful moments of the year for me came when I read a student's reflection paper on his experience volunteering in an after school programme for predominately African American children. He wrote that he had never thought of himself as prejudiced but that he really had never spent any time with people who were black. In spending time with these children he had come to realize that prejudice can also mean prejudging people even if those judgements aren't negative. He said that he had learned he needed to practice docilitas so that he might come to understand people different from himself.

This thanksgiving I give thanks for Kyle Childress, Simone Weil, Iris Murdoch, Peter Erb, Norman Wirzba and Rick for teaching me to practice a little more docilitas as I pay attention that I might understand and love my community truly.

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