On Reading Wendell Berry

I started reading Wendell Berry 22 years ago.  Sort of amazing really.  I was an 18 year old city girl going to college in a new town.  What affinity could I have for books written by a farmer who was older than my parents?  But along with Annie Dillard and Barry Lopez–because the three of them always go together in my mind–Wendell Berry gave me characters that reveled in the created world that was steeped in a religious sensibility.  Their works were not something that would be found on the shelves of the local Bible bookstore, but they were nourishing, they were formative in deep ways.

I’ve read all of Wendell Berry many times over but find it very difficult to recommend a place to start.  His fiction is interconnected; characters you meet in one story are often bit players in another.  But in the essays too, the same themes come up again and again.  And for me the more I read, the more affection I had for the man, and the more my understanding grew.

I think I would begin with the poems (but not the Sabbath poems).  Even long poems are short.  There’s not much commitment.  If you don’t like one, you can always turn the page and start another.  But if you do find something you like, the lines will keep singing to you all day long.  I’d start with The Country of Marriage or The Wheel.  These are the poems you’ll hear me quoting from, these are the lines that have informed the last 22 years.

Then I’d read his biography of Harlan Hubbard.  The Hubbards lived down the river from Wendell and were a major influence on his life.  They lived very simply and made art and loved each other.  This book will fill up your commonplace book with delicious quotes!

Then I’d listen to Wendell himself read selections from the essays in What Are People For?  You’ll have to find these used and dig out your cassette player, but it is oh so worth it to hear the humor and complexity in his voice.  Words that sound strident and harsh on the page, dance off his tongue.  It’s not that Wendell isn’t strident and harsh–that’s exactly why some people like him.  But that’s not all he is.  And his voice helps me find that other stream.

And finally some fiction…generally speaking I think his writing has gotten better over time, so his more recent work is better than the older stuff.  But the interrelated stories inform each other, and what you know of a character in one instance helps you understand the implications of what happens in another story.  If you’re in the market for a good, thick novel maybe start with Jayber Crow.  Or my favorite, A Place on Earth.  The novels both take place during World War II, and were written 33 years apart.  In many ways the older work, A Place on Earth, is a darker, more pessimistic novel.  But it’s aging very well.

Or you might start by just searching for Wendell Berry on this blog!  I’ve shared quite a few of his poems here over the years.  What was the first Wendell Berry you read?  Or where do you recommend starting?

One More Advent Resource

I began blogging because our little family moved away from my family, and I wanted to keep a record of our days to share with them.  But one of the best surprises of blogging has been *meeting* new people, the readers here at One Deep Drawer!

St Nicholas Altar

Sarah, one such lovely reader, sent along the link to a set of Nativity printables made by Gertrud Mueller Nelson.  I absolutely love them!  We’ll be working on them tomorrow.  Print out a set and join us!

You might also poke around the Good Ground Press site.  The online retreats look fascinating.  They might be the perfect way to say goodby to 2014 or to begin your new year.

Our friends at Pray as You Go will be praying the O Antiphons.

I’m also pleased to announce that Lisa from Through the Mind to the Heart won the drawing for a copy of The Liberal Arts Tradition!

If you are still curious about Classical education, there’s no better place to start than with the series Schole Everyday: Incorporating Restful Learning into Your Day

Praying the O Antiphons

I’ve been thinking about praying the O Antiphons during Advent for a few years now.  But for some reason none of the prayers that I had read seemed to call out to me.  So the idea languished.  Until a few weeks ago when Celeste at Joyous Lessons wrote a bit about the changes coming in the Morning Basket during Advent.

Praying the O Antiphons

She mentioned a prayer companion for the O Antiphons made by Jennifer Gregory Miller.  It is glorious.  As soon as I saw it, I knew that finally this would be the year that we tried adding this simple devotion to the golden nights leading up to Christmas.

From December 17-24 there is a prayer that addresses Christ with a different messianic name each day–O Wisdom, O Root of Jesse, O Key of David.  Jennifer has paired the prayers (in English and Latin!) with lovely art work, a corresponding verse from “O Come Emmanuel,” and simple suggestions for food that underscores the day’s focus.

I’d love to hear if you plan on praying the O Antiphons as well…or about any other devotion that turns our hearts again to the coming of the light.

A Little Christmas Reading?

I’d love to send you a copy of The Liberal Arts Tradition by Kevin Clark and Ravi Jain.  Maybe you’ve been wanting to read it, maybe you know someone who is interested in Classical Christian education.

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Here’s a very enthusiastic review...though for the most part the book didn’t resonate with me.  I much prefer The Living Page or Beauty in the Word.  Just leave a comment, and I’ll draw a winner on Monday night.  Then I’ll put it right in the post!

Freight Train, Freight Train Going So Fast

Last year for Christmas Joseph got a copy of Freight Train by Donald Crews…and he couldn’t have cared less.  He was way more interested in books full of people, especially babies.  But he rediscovered the book a few weeks ago and is reading it to shreds!

A few weeks ago we got the chance to go see the Columbia Gorge Model Railroad.  Jojo was in heaven.  At one point he let out a squeal, and one of the men operating the trains said, “That’s the sound that we live for!”

Here’s a little Elizabeth Mitchell singing “Freight Train.”  She even rides the train to visit her friend named Jojo!

Wednesday (with Words)

A few years ago my friend Lyanda Lynn Haupt wrote about her Advent reading.  She mentioned a writer who was new to me–always a treat.  She was reading A Child in Winter by Caryll Houselander.  So I put it on hold, and it came to me from the Benedictines at Mount Angel.  The slim blue book made an impression right away.  This is the third year that I’ve used it at Advent.  It’s still amazing me.  Even though I’ve been sharing often from this book, today’s selection really throws on lights.

Christ never goes away, never forgets, all day long, wherever you are, whoever you are, whatever you are doing.  HIs whole heart is concentrated upon you.

He watches you with the eye of a mother watching her only child.  He sees not the surface of things, not the imperfections inevitable to human frailty, but the truly loveable in you, your dependence on him, your need of him.  Does a mother love her child less because it has fallen and bruised itself?  No, indeed; only, if that is possible, more!

What must we do then?

Listen.  Be silent.  Let Christ speak to you.  Forget yourself, do not be self-centered, let him tell you how he loves you, show you what he is like, prove to you that he is real.  Silence in your soul means a gentle attention to Christ, it means turning away from self to him, listening to him.

God speaks silently, God speaks in your heart; if your heart is noisy, chattering, you will not hear.

Every ordinary thing in your life is a word of God’s love:

your home, your work, the clothes you wear, the air you breathe, the food you eat, the friends you delight in, the flowers under your feet are the courtesy of God’s heart flung down on you!  All these things say one thing only: “See how I love you.”

God asks only this one thing, that you will let God tell you this directly, simply; that you will treat God as someone real, not as someone who does not really exist.

–From The Comforting of Christ, 21

Poetry Friday :: on Christina Rossetti’s Birthday

Today is the birthday of the English poetess Christina Rossetti.  Of all the poets we have met in our poetry-centered homeschool, her poems have caught the imaginations of my children. Listen here to her words set to music by Gustav Holst:

Besides the loveliness of the candlelit faces, listening to the poem as a carol underscores the music of the poem.  Often I dismiss poems in the ballad form, poems with end rhyme.  And yet, there is something magical about poems that lean toward song.

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Today is also St Nicholas Eve.  Don’t forget to set out your shoes filled with carrots for the saint’s donkey!  Last night found me cutting + gluing the beautiful St Nicholas Coins that Jessica at Shower of Roses created.  More poetry goodness at the Poetry Friday link below…including haiku written by the saint himself!

poetry friday on a saturday

Wednesday (with Words)

Advent has come…with a thud.  We’ve had a hard time getting back into the swing of school since the Thanksgiving break.  The kids are distracted, the baby’s into everything, I’m feeling out of sorts.  How can this be?  Advent didn’t sneak up on me; I’ve been preparing for weeks.  I even wrote a book about it!

Keeping Advent

For the past few years, during Advent I’ve read A Child in Winter by Caryll Houselander.  It’s a book of short, quiet reflections that work their way in.  Just a single line can catch my attention and keep me reflecting for a few days.

Our own effort will consist in sifting and sorting out everything that is not essential and that fills up space and silence in us and in discovering what sort of shape this emptiness in us is.  From this we shall learn what sort of purpose God has for us.

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There is great virtue in practicing patience in small things until the habit of Advent returns to us.

So, I’m simply doing what I can.  Lighting the candles, singing the songs, reading the books. Waiting for the habit of Advent to return.

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5 Days to a More Peaceful Advent :: One Thing

The world is so full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings–Robert Louis Stevenson

…Except that all those things can sometimes make it too hard to choose.  Sometimes the fact that we could do any number of things makes it hard to do anything.  At our place it’s movies.  When it’s the perfect night to spend the evening together sharing stories through movies, we sometimes spend so much time trying to pick the right one that it gets too late to watch anything.

In the days leading up to Christmas, there will be no end to the things you can do together.  But don’t get bogged down in finding the perfect activity.  Choose simply; enjoy deeply; rest quietly.

peaceful advent

Here is a list of simple activities to get you started:

drink hot chocolate with whipped cream

play games

draw together

watch a movie

read a book outloud

share old family stories

take a bubble bath

watch the moon come full

make peppermint chocolate cookies

or peanut butter kisses

…and a pot of tea