My favorite Wendell Berry book is Jayber Crow, the story of a man who spent his life as the town barber. It was a difficult life, blessed with simple joys and beset by sad occurrences and difficulties. However, Jayber learns to make sense of it, claim it, and be grateful.
From the chapter “The Way of Love” in the middle of the
… And so there were times when I knew (I knew beyond any proof) that the faith that carried me through the waterless wastes was not wasted.
I began to pray again. I took it up again exactly where I had left off twenty years before, in doubt and hesitation, bewildered, and unknowing what to say. “Thy will be done,” I said, and seemed to feel my own bones tremble in the grave.
Not a single one of my doubts and troubles about the Scripture had ever left me. They had, in fact, got worse….My mistake was ignoring the verses that say God loves the world.
But now (by a kind of generosity, it seemed) the world had so beaten me about the head, and so favored me with good and beautiful things, that I was able to see. “God loves Port William as it is,” I thought. “Why else should He want it to be better than it is?”
All my life I had heard preachers quoting John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” They would preach on the second part of the verse, to show the easiness of being saved (“Only believe”). Where I hung now was the first part. If God loved the world even before the event at Bethlehem, that meant He loved it as it was, with all its faults. That would be Hell itself, in part. He would be like a father with a wayward child, whom he can’t help and he can’t forget. But it would be even worse than that, for he would also know the wayward child and the course of its waywardness and its suffering. That His love contains all the world does not show that the world does not matter, or that He and we do not suffer until death; it shows that the world is Hell only in part. But His love can contain it only by compassion and mercy, which, if not Hell entirely, would be at least a crucifixion.
From my college courses and my reading I knew the various names that came at the end of a line of questions or were placed as periods to bafflement: the First Cause, the First Mover, the Life Force…even Providence. I too had used those names in arguing with others, and with myself, trying to explain the world to myself. And now I saw that those names explained nothing. They were of no more use than Evolution or Natural Selection, or Nature…All such names do is catch us within the length and breadth of our own thoughts and our own bewilderment. Though I knew the temptation of simple reason, to know nothing that can’t be proved, still I supposed that those were not the right names.
I imagined that the right name might be Father, and I imagined all that that name would imply: the love, the compassion, the taking offense, the disappointment, the anger, the bearing of wounds, the weeping of tears, the forgiveness, the suffering unto death. If love could force my own thoughts over the edge of the world and out of time, then could I not see how even divine omnipotence might by the force of its love be swayed down into the world? Could I not see how it might, because it could know its creatures only by compassion, put on mortal flesh, become a man, and walk among us, assume our nature and our fate, suffer our faults and our death?
Yes. And I could imagine a Father who is yet like a mother hen spreading her wings before the storm or in the dusk before the dark night for the little ones of Port William to come in under, some of whom do, and some do not. I could imagine Port William riding its humble wave through time under the sky, its little flames of wakefulness lighting and going out, its lives passing through birth, pleasure, suffering, and death. I could imagine God looking down upon it, its lives living by His spirit, breathing by His breath, knowing by His light, but each life living also (inescapably) by its own will–His own body given to be broken….
And so, how was a human to pray? I didn’t know and yet I prayed. I prayed the terrible prayer: “Thy will be done.” Having so prayed, I prayed for strength. That seemed reasonable and right enough. As did praying for forgiveness and the grace to forgive. I prayed unreasonably, foolishly, hopelessly, that everybody in Port William might be blessed and happy-the ones I loved and the ones I did not. I prayed my gratitude.