I am reading Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry in conjunction with the followers of Michele Morin’s Living our Days blog at https://michelemorin.wordpress.com
Each Thursday we talk about a few more chapters together, although I’m late checking in this week myself!
Check out my About page above for the reading schedule and join us, or just come along for the conversation ( :
Jayber accompanied me on a road trip this week to visit far flung children and their grand wee ones. And I seemed to see him everywhere–in a quaint small town coffee shop operated by old timers in the town’s historic train station and imagined as we passed a tidy barber shop…. We followed roughly the valleys of the Thompson and Fraser rivers through National Parks and rugged canyons. As the gold-spangled miles blurred the edges of my vision I followed Jayber’s mental wranglings first with watching his might-have-been-sweetheart give her affections to an unworthy suitor, then to seeing the effects of war descend upon his beloved community of Port William. And finally in his commentary on the failing relationship between steady and unchanging Roy and his perpetually idealistic wife Cecilia. Sad. Jayber’s conscientious objections to each of these scenarios had no effect on the outcomes. He could merely watch from the sidelines as circumstances he would not have chosen played out in their painful heartfelt ways on him and those he had come to care about.
Isn’t this the way it is in real life? We feign control over dramas that will play out quite unaffected by our vigilant worry or voiceless objection. It can be unsettling to think what might happen to us, what in fact is happening to others we know or read about in the news…It seems so random, so painful, so terrifying. We’ve all seen bad news this week. Violence perpetrated. Personally we’ve had conversations this week with family and with old acquaintances whom tragedy has struck while we were away…Life scenarios have been forever altered by ‘chance’ events, by hearts falling in love, by a string of happenstance we could not have planned and were powerless to intercept, for good or for perceived ill. Yes, this is the way life is, but as Jayber mused:
Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim, crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led—make of that what you will. p.134
I find that it is not entirely clear this side of eternity where our choices meet God’s interventions or how evil in a fallen world fits in with God’s perfect means of working in all things for the good of those who love Him and the seeking and saving of those who don’t (yet)…
But I found I couldn’t relate to Jayber’s perception of being a pilgrim on a wandering unmarked way. I’ve was given the privilege of being raised by parents and even grandparents who found God’s Word to be a reliable map. It has made all the difference. Where life’s pain and loss seem senseless we trust, as Job who lost all and still attested: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job 1:21) and we believe that “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” Ps.25:10. This is the birthright of the one who stakes his life and breath on God’s promises and it has been my own experience. But I digress from Jayber’s musings.
As always Berry has found a whimsical way to express things, including the significance of a small town…
In the actual scale of a state highway map, Port William would be smaller than the dot that locates it. In the eyes of the powers that be, we Port Williamites live and move and have our being within a black period about the size of the one that ends a sentence. p.139
…and the effects of war on a community so seemingly unrelated to that war:
The war did not make Port William more visible, except to itself; to itself, it became extraordinarily visible. We looked around us, seeing everything as eligible to be lost. p.140
…and Miss Gladdie, the widow personifying war’s effects on those who stay home and suffer its losses…
She was a woman of sorrows and might have been excused for seeming so. And yet I rarely saw her when she didn’t have a smile and a cheerful word. p.140
Every day, from early spring to late fall, she made a little wander around her house and yard to see what was coming up or getting ready to bloom or blooming.
And within all else she was, she was keeper and protector of the grief by which she cherished what she had lost.
Thoughts on War
Where do dead soldiers die who are killed in battle? They die at home—in Port William and thousands of other little darkened places, in thousands upon thousands of houses like Miss Gladdie’s where The News comes, and everything on the tables and shelves is all of a sudden a relic and a reminder forever. p.141
This new war, like the previous one, would be a test of the power of machines against people and places; whatever its causes and justifications, it would make the world worse. This was true of that new war, and it has been true of every new war since. The dark human monstrous thing comes and tramples the little towns and never even knows their names. It would make Port William afraid and shed its blood and grieve its families and damage its hope. p.142
And what caused it? It was caused, I thought, by people failing to love one another, failing to love their enemies. I was glad enough that I had not become a preacher, and so would not have to go through a war pretending that Jesus had not told us to love our enemies.
The thought of loving your enemies is opposite to war. You don’t have to do it; you don’t have to love one another. All you have to do is keep the thought in mind and Port William becomes visible, and you see its faces and know what it has to lose. Maybe you don’t have to love your enemies. Maybe you just have to act like you do. And maybe you have to start early. p.142
I found that though I could agree with Jayber (Berry’s?) objection to the war because of its devastating effects on home and family, I couldn’t agree with his over-simplified thoughts on the opposing nature of love and war. When evil runs rampant, love must oppose it and attempt to restrain it in order to rescue those who are powerless in the face of that evil. Love lays down its life for the beloved. An evil enemy, in the case of nations with anti-God ideologies, is loved best by restraining its evil actions and bringing God’s laws to bear on its thinking…
Anyhow, what I couldn’t bring together or reconcile in my mind was the thought of Port William and the thought of the war. p.142
A nation is an idea, and Port William is not. Maybe there is no live connection between a little place and a big idea. I think there is not. p.142
Yes, I think there is a definite connection! Little peaceful democracies like Port William can exist freely because there is a big idea–a nation established upon ideas of freedom and democracy, a nation that actively resists evil and is governed based on God’s laws… Berry’s thinking seems muddy to me here.
I had a conscientious objection to making an exception of myself. p.143
This was such a great conclusion to the matter of conscientious objection.
We feared that The News would become all of a sudden our news. We feared the news of wounds, deaths, losses; we feared our own grief, which we felt to be waiting.
And yet, even in failing one another, even in our silence we kept with one another. People had their ways and kept to them. The crops were planted and harvested; the animals mated and gave birth in the appointed seasons, were fed and watched over; the endless conversation of weather and work went on; memories were kept, stories told, and everything funny treasured up and spread around. The old studied their memories and mused and spoke. We younger ones began to see that we knew things that never had not been known. p.148
“What can’t be helped must be endured,” Mat Feltner said. And he was a man who knew. p.148
Thinking to try to comfort him, I said, “Well, along with all else, there’s goodness and beauty too. I guess that’s the mercy of the world.” Mat said, “The mercy of the world is you don’t know what’s going to happen.” p.149
And another mercy, I would add is that God does know what will happen and has it all in control–and has given us a sneak preview into ‘the rest of the story’ ( :
And of course Cecelia held some secret doubts about herself; you can’t dislike nearly everybody and be quite certain that you have exempted yourself. p.152
Wow. How insightful! This is something to remember when needing to keep company with a person who’s hard to get along with. They are likely not happy with themselves either. Here is room for compassion.
As it turned out, Roy was not malleable. What he was already was what he was going to be; what he was already was all she got. She couldn’t make anything out of him that he hadn’t already become by the time she got started on him. She couldn’t even reduce him to anything less than he was. p.153
It’s sad that Cecilia never learned what she had in this stable faithful husband because she was so intent on making him someone he could never be. Such is human nature.
Our driving day of leafy gold splendor back-dropped by cloudless blue heavens gave way to wind and rain before we’d arrived at our destination— not so very unlike the journey of life. There will be tears. These chapters have been sad ones. But one constant remains–God’s love toward his creatures. Whether we see it in the beauty all around us or in the comfort He brings in days of storm, He is there. His love fills the earth.
For the word of the LORD holds true, and everything he does is worthy of our trust. He loves whatever is just and good, and his unfailing love fills the earth. Ps.33:4,5