Jayber’s growing up years are concluded in these chapters with a handful of poignant observations and conversation, just enough to show us the ‘stuff’ that shaped the thinking of the man who records his life on Berry’s pages. Even if you’re not reading along with us at Michele’s Living our Days blog, I hope you’ll ramble along with me for this tour of Jayber’s youth and its attendant ponderings…
Jayber’s Aunt Cordie ‘departs’ leaving behind a true orphan, old enough to know where he wants to live his life but not of age to live there on his own. So off he goes to the Good Shepherd church orphanage:
And so I went out of the hands of love, which certainly included charity as we know it, into the hands of charity as we know it, which included love only as it might. p.30
where he is delivered into the care of a man whose name predicts his persona:
Brother Whitespade, one of the crossest of Christians, who said in a big, pretty voice, “Ah! This will be Mr. Crow.”…smiling in a way that gave me no comfort. His stare was the most concentrated part of him…all that he was seemed to be gathered up in his eyes and pointed across that wide desk at me. p.30
There he is stripped of his first name, to become merely J.Crow, and joins a mass of similarly unnamed children to forge a new identity, or in his case to steal himself against loss of his former one by becoming intensely private.
We were thus not quite nameless, but also not quite named. The effect was curious. For a while anyhow, and for how long a while it would be hard to say, we all acted on the assumption that we were no longer the persons we had been—which for all practical purposes was the correct assumption. p.31
What a desperately sad transition. It occurs to me that everyone wants to be a particular someone in somebody’s eyes, not just an initial. We want to be known and loved. I couldn’t help thinking of the promise tucked in Revelation for the ‘one who conquers’:
“I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
Pardon me if I wrest this from its context for a moment to observe God’s intimate knowledge of his own children. Noone knows us like He does. We know one another, even in our most intimate relationships, only ‘in part’ but we ourselves are fully known and loved all the while by this God who names us with a name that cannot be taken from us. Similarly Paul says, ‘Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.‘ (Rev.2:17; I Cor.13:12)
But I diverge from the story at hand…
At The Good Shepherd I entered for the first time a divided world—divided both from me and within itself. It was divided from me because it did not seem to be present unless I watched it. Within itself, it was divided between an ideal world of order, as prescribed and demanded by the institution, which was embodied most formidably by Brother Whitespade, and a real world of disorder, which we students brought in with us as a sort of infection. Though of course I could not sort it all out until afterward…I know now that order was thought to emanate from the institution, and disorder from nature. Order was of the soul, whose claims the institution represented. Disorder was of the body, which was us. p.32
I’m not sure I completely ‘get’ what Mr. Berry is driving at here except that he has a great distrust of institutions as attempting to bring order without addressing the true nature of disorder. All these poor little lost orphans were held together by schedules and rules and habits which were intended to shape their souls while really only affecting their bodies, while their little souls were in great confusion.
Little J. Crow found solace in mentally escaping–looking out across the fields to a farmhouse that spoke to him of home.
And I like to remember myself standing in my fixed and appointed place, always a little lonely and a little homesick, watched and under suspicion, looking over at that beautiful house at the point of the meeting of earth and sky. I would let my mind go there and make itself at home. p.33
For me personally, there is something about an old farmhouse that feels like home, not because I grew up on a farm, but perhaps because my Grandma’s nearby farm was such a haven to me growing up. Now I snap photos of old farmsteads whenever I can…they speak to me of home.
A window opening on nothing but the blank sky was endlessly attractive to me…. A window that looked out into a tree was a source of inexpressible happiness… p.34
Yes, and AMEN! I agree.
More thoughts on home and letting the mind wander there…
I found out that I could not willfully place my mind elsewhere, but that, if I let it loose from what it was expected to be doing, it would go elsewhere. p.34
I began to take for granted that I was somewhere, and somewhere that I knew, but I never quite felt that I was somewhere I wanted to be. Where I wanted to be, always, day in and day out, year in and year out, was Squires Landing and all that fall of country between Port William…and the river…When I heard or read the word home, that patch of country was what I thought of. Home was one of the words I wrote in my tablet. p.36
What a gift is the mind and its memories, outlasting all the most precious places and events we have lived through, there to tap into in a strange and inhospitable place. I love the way Berry puts this in words:
The things I was remembering were gone from everywhere except my mind. p.37
And so there would always be more to remember that could no longer be seen. This is one of the things I can tell you that I have learned: our life here is in some way marginal to our own doings, and our doings are marginal to the greater forces that are always at work. Our history is always returning to a little patch of weeds and saplings with an old chimney sticking up by itself. p.38
I belonged, even defiantly, to what I remembered, and not to the place where I was. p.38
In a way, though, I see it as unfortunate that J.Crow was not able to ‘unpack his bags’ and settle into his new reality. He might have made life-long friends and even good memories. He might have grown in new ways and gained an appreciation for other ways of life.
I remember receiving this advice: Unpack your bags, when I had travelled far away from home and family to what was then the strange land of Alberta, Canada to my last year of highschool and then continuing on into Bible School. I always viewed it as temporary and sent letters home for the little necessities rather than go buy them downtown and learn my way around. I leaned on my mom and my intention of going home and suspended my creative, nature-loving soul for this tenure on the foreboding, to me dreary, prairies…
Little did I know Canada would become my home (I found my mate at that school) and my own offspring would come to live on the prairies and I would be magnetized back to be near the grands. I live now in the mountain valley just shy of these sweeping wide prairies that are home to some of my best-loved people. I am learning that home is where you make it with the people and surroundings that it holds. My mind cherishes ideals and places in which I will never live (some of which no longer exist), but I don’t want those ideals to keep me from living where I am planted.
Jayber faults, I think rightly, institutional tendencies, that unfortunately can encroach on the Church as well and give us insular thinking that defies the unity intended for the Body of Christ.
Like (I think) most institutions, it was turned inward, trying to be a world in itself. p.40
I too like to walk wherever the whim may lead. I like this portrayal of walking alone:
But even more I liked to go by myself, to begin just with whatever whim or disgruntlement or longing got me started, and walk without reference to anything but my own interest or curiosity until it came time to turn back. p.42
Jayber’s thoughts re: calling are so familiar to me, having attended a missions-minded Bible school. It was definitely considered second-rate, though not spelled out that way, to NOT go into full-time ‘ministry’. I’m sure that pressure to do the right thing compelled some into missions who were not cut out for it. We would later meet some of these people. Some came with their own personalities intact and brought a refreshing angle to life in missions. Others didn’t fare so well.
How it came about I am not quite sure, but I began to suspect that I might be called to preach. My suspicion may have been no more than fear, for with all my heart I disliked the idea of becoming a preacher. p.42
What I see now, and wish others in Jayber’s shoes realized, is that with God’s calling comes the desire to do what He has called you to. For most of my life desire has been suspect though and I still battle to differentiate my desires from God’s.
Not one of those men [Whitespade and visiting preachers] had ever suggested that a person could be “called” to anything but “full-time Christian service,” by which they meant either the ministry or “the mission field”. p.42
You fell blind off your horse, and then you did what the call told you to do. p.43
Though I knew that actually I had heard no voice, I could not dismiss the possibility that it had spoken and I had failed to hear it because of some deficiency in me or something wrong that I had done….I decided that I had better accept the call that had not come, just in case it had come and I had missed it. p.43
What Jayber missed: God is well able to communicate with man. He made him in his image. He knows precisely how to get his attention. Doubt is a ploy of the enemy to point us off trajectory.
Re: Mr. Whitespade, a glimpse behind the veneer and a reminder that what shows on the outside of a person is not all there is. We all long to be known, though we put up fronts that prevent it.
Now he showed himself to me as just a man who thought too well of himself but wanted to be kind, who was too sure of a lot of things but also a little lonely.
I had to chuckle at these glimpses into Jayber’s motivations. They are so human ( :
I thought that if I became a preacher, I would have learned a great deal during my education, and I would spend a lot of my time reading. I liked those thoughts, and also the thought that I would live in a nice town with shady streets and be well-loved and admired by my congregation.
But the thought that I liked most was that I would have a wife. p.45
I loved these great countrified similes:
I was as tight as a tick in those days, and would as soon have thrown my money away as trust it to a bank. p.48
At night, shut in my little room with all my worldly possessions, I felt like a worm in an apple. p.48
Berry on the false dichotomy between body and soul:
In most of them [preachers] I saw the old division of body and soul that I had known at The Good Shepherd….Everything bad was laid on the body, and everything good was credited to the soul. It scared me a little when I realized that I saw it the other way around. p.49
As I see it, so much of the confusion here is due to the missing piece: the spirit. The body is capable of both good and evil, as is the soul. When allegiance is given by one’s spirit to God’s Spirit then good becomes possible! Of course this is only possible where the spirit has been given a new lease on life, or ‘born again’. The issue isn’t whether it’s the soul or the body that is inherently good–both are naturally corrupt–but whether God’s life has been imparted to that soul and body via His Spirit enabling good to come of them!
–Jayber (Berry?) on perceived errors in Scripture:
But I had read all of it by then, and I could see that it changed. And if it changed, how could all of it be true? p.50
Questions all of a sudden were clanging in my mind like Edgar Allan Poe’s brazen alarum bells. p.50
This was an exasperating chapter for me, so replete with questions that are important but not unanswerable. What was wanting was a thorough understanding of the whole scope of Scripture and of God’s progressive revelation of the plan of salvation. The accusation that Scripture is not consistent with itself (‘it changes’) really pushes my buttons! In reality, Scripture’s coherence is remarkable evidence of its supernatural origin. When you consider the scope of very different individuals who penned its pages over such a huge span of time, not to mention the fulfilled prophecies it contains(!), and yet its unity of theme and agenda, it is incredibly remarkable. How unfortunate that J. Crow was never taught the concept of progressive revelation. Not everyone who lived during the happenings of the first half of the book had the full revelation of what God would later reveal to the generations who lived in the last pages of the book! See how Paul puts it here: (Ephesians 3:1-6). and (Romans 16:25-26).
[A great further explanation re: progressive revelation is found at GotQuestions.org (https://www.gotquestions.org/progressive-revelation.html)%5D
No, this understanding wouldn’t have taken away all of his questions, but it would have given him more confidence in the source text to search for his answers!
Here is a sampling of the questions that ultimately undermined J.Crow’s faith, or at least his intent to be a preacher. I wonder, are they also Mr. Berry’s questions? Has he found answers?
After you have said “thy will be done,” what more can be said? And where do you find the strength to pray “thy will be done” after you see what it means? p.51
Does prayer change God’s mind? If God’s mind can be changed by the wants and wishes of us mere humans, as if deferring to our better judgment, what is the point of praying to Him at all? p.51
Does God want us to cross the abyss between Him and us? If we can’t–and it looked to me like we can’t–will He help us? or does He want us to fall into the abyss? p.51
My observation is that questions left to ferment can strengthen or weaken faith depending where we turn for answers. In my opinion we are not meant to face them alone but with the support of the Body of Christ and the Word of God. Jayber had isolated himself from others who may have had similar questions and his teachers, in my opinion, did not offer the wisdom he needed. Yes, we must ultimately come to the answers ourselves, but not from within ourselves! And yes, it may take a long time, maybe even until we are out of these bodies, but we are not meant to wrangle alone or without the under-girding of faith and confidence in the Word and inter-dependence on the Body of Christ with its various giftings. These J.Crow was without.
By then I wasn’t just asking questions; I was being changed by them. I was being changed by my prayers, which dwindled down nearer and nearer to silence, which weren’t confrontations with God but with the difficulty—in my own mind, or in the human lot—of knowing what or how to pray. Lying awake at night, I could feel myself being changed–into what, I had no idea. It was worse than wondering if I had received the call. I wasn’t just a student or a going-to-be preacher anymore. I was a lost traveler wandering in the woods, needing to be on my way somewhere but not knowing where. p.52
They were decent enough men, according to their lights. The problem was that they’d had no doubts. They had not asked the questions that I was asking and so of course they could not answer them. They told me I needed to have more faith; I needed to believe; I needed to pray; I needed to give up my questioning, which was a sign of weakness of faith. p.52
These men could go on all day about the sins of the flesh or the amount of water needed for baptism or whether you could go to Heaven without being baptized or who could or couldn’t go to Heaven, but they couldn’t say why, if we’re to take some of the Bible literally, we don’t take all of it literally, or why we kill our enemies, or why we pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets that we may be seen of men. p.52
And if Jesus’ own prayer in the garden wasn’t granted, what is there for us to pray, except ‘thy will be done,’ which there’s no use in praying because it will be done anyhow?” p.53
J. Crow’s conversation with his kindest teacher…
I said, “Well,”…”I had this feeling maybe I had been called.”
“And you may have been right. But not to what you thought. Not to what you think. You have been given questions to which you cannot be given answers. You will have to live them out—perhaps a little at a time.”
“And how long is that going to take?”
“I don’t know. As long as you live, perhaps.”
“That could be a long time.”
“I will tell you a further mystery,” he said “It may take longer.”
…As I started to leave, it came to me that of all the teachers I’d had in school he was the kindest, p.54
Though I would have liked him to say more, I appreciate J. Crow’s wise teacher for pointing out that maybe his calling was different than what he had thought, and thus freeing him from pursuing the ministry for all the wrong reasons. And I appreciate W. Berry for laying out this whole issue so humanly so we can watch Jonah Crow live his life and share his wisdom as we sort through our own questions about faith and calling!
ARE YOU STILL HERE? I thank you for coming along with my mental ramblings through Jabyer’s soul. My apologies to the author for digging in where he warned me not to! Who could resist responding to this vulnerable soul.