Wendell Berry at AAR/SBL

What a wonderful privilege to hear Wendell Berry at this year’s American Academy of Religion and Society of Biblical Literature (AAR/SBL)! For me, it was the best of the best. Here are the ten things I found most inspiring:

Wendell Berry (agricultural prophet): Sustaina...
Wendell Berry (SustainableTraditions.com, photo credit: wiselywoven)

10. His humility – Wendell Berry has received many awards, including this year’s Martin E. Marty Award for the Public Understanding of Religion. When he received a standing ovation at this year’s AAR/SBL, he gently and humourously chided the gathering known for its critical scholarship, “Now this is overdone. This place should be more critical.”

9. His poetry – He’s a prolific writer of novels, short stories, poems, and essays, but I know him mainly for his poems. One of my favourites is Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front, even though I’m not mad and not a farmer.

8. His confessional approach – He describes his poetry “not trying to call anyone [else], but trying to make the terms of my own peace.”

7. His sense of home – “Stop somewhere with the intention of staying there and dealing with it.” “A life will attach you to a place and a people, and they will disappoint you by not agreeing with you, you’re going to be confronted with opposition, with your own mistakes, and you will learn a lot.”

6. His cultural critique – “This is the age of divorce–not only in marriage—but the divorce of everything from everything.” “There’s a difference between a career and a life.”

5. His compassion both for the world and our place in it – “The scale of what’s wrong [with the world] is so incomprehensible . . . we are so flawed . . . so implicated . . . there is a danger of despair, being cynical, just letting it go.” We can’t do everything, but maybe we can make it “a little bit better.”

4. His active approach – which for him takes the form of working on a land use bill that would mean “more eyes per acre” (i.e., sympathetic attention, knowing attention of what’s happening to the land). “You can’t save the integrity of the natural world in wilderness preserves. If you can’t do it in the landscapes we’re using, we don’t have a hope.”

3. His practical approach – “Love has to wear a face–even if it’s your neighbour you don’t like. You have to get better at ‘hypocrisy’ and act as if you love your neighbour.”

2. His ability to continue to grow as a writer, to change his mind, and even to disagree with himself –  After reading his poem, The Peace of Wild Things, he said that he would now object to the term “wild things,” because the wood drake and the heron might well “see us as wild. They’re right–we’ve shaken off our limits and are out of control, have given up our compassion,” so we are really the wild things.

1. His reading of Poem VI from Leavings, a great prayer/poem of longing that moved me and everyone, even Wendell Berry himself. He said he might not be able to read this one in public again.

Writing/Reflection Prompt: Do you have a favourite Wendell Berry poem or quote? What’s inspired you in the last week?


For more on writing and other acts of faith,

sign up here for free email updates and receive

a copy of How to Pray When Prayer Seems Impossible

10 thoughts on “Wendell Berry at AAR/SBL

  1. Thank you, April! I’ve been waiting for this post ever since you mentioned you’d be writing about him. You’ve picked such wonderful quotes and varying angles on the wonder and wisdom that is Wendell Berry.

  2. I would like to know
    my children again, all my family, all my dear ones,
    to see, to hear, to hold, more carefully
    than before, to study them lingeringly as one
    studies old verses, committing them to heart

    Thank you for this lovely picture of one of the poet/prophet/saints of our time.

    Here’s a gift back to you in case you haven’t seen it.


    Happy Thanksgiving.


    1. “. . . I have not
      paid enough attention, I have not been grateful
      enough.” Yes.
      And thanks for the link, Shirley, I will enjoy settling down to watch the video.
      Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

  3. april

    in these days when so many wish to use j.h. yoder’s theology without references to his life, i find myself wanting to ponder the thoughts of w. berry with his life. no disrespect to j.h. yoder. i just find Berry the baptist a profoundly nourishing life for those seeking the presence of God. . thank-you for including him in your thoughts.

  4. Wendell Berry is amazing. I actually live just over an hour from his homestead. I’ve never met him, but I count him as a major influence. I only wish I had half his integrity.

    1. Dear Walter and Tony, I appreciate your comments on Wendell Berry’s integrity, and how he has been an influence for you both. I’ve felt it too, although each of us are in different contexts, yet his work and life resonate deeply.
      “So, friends, every day do something
      that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
      Love the world….”

  5. A Wendell Berry poem that has stayed with me is “The slip.” An acre of land disappears and he weaves hope into this natural disaster, this wound in the earth. And I love the Sabbath poems, especially…”I go among trees and sit still….” I heard him speak at Goshen College and appreciated his quiet manner…. Thanks April

    1. I also love the Sabbath poem you mention, especially these opening lines:
      “I go among trees and sit still.
      All my stirring becomes quiet
      around me like circles on water.
      My tasks lie in their places
      where I left them, asleep like cattle.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.