Jayber Crow–Chapters 24-26

The Inevitability and Effects of Athey’s Aging…

These chapters held a lot of sadness, intermingled with hopefulness. I guess that’s pretty much the story of life in a sin-damaged world.

Troy and Mattie’s little Jimmy grows up, the glad disciple of Athey

He was learning something of the use of judgment.  He was excited by the way his grandfather’s art gave beauty to their work and brought it to fruitfulness.  Boylike, not quite realizing what he had done, he had made his choice.  Between Troy and Athey, he preferred to work with Athey. p.262

What should have happened between Athey and Troy had leaped over a generation and happened between Athey and Jimmy, but in a way too late for them both, and certainly too late for the farm down in the river bottom. p.262

He seemed to have so much going for him, a better nature than his father’s, a sense of humor, a willingness to work hard and a grandpa to curb his mischievous streak.

He seemed to have no instinct for the making much of oneself that complaining requires. p.263

But when Athey passed on to join the ranks of Port William’s history as recorded in the churchyard everything changed for Jimmy.

However in the process of Athey’s aging and growing incapacitation  Jayber at last is taken in as family, for just awhile.  He would come over to cut Athey’s hair and whiskers and visit a while “and to be treated by Mattie as one who had been in a way chosen and who had something of us to offer.  To have her feel free to ask me for help was to me freedom itself.”

Between Jimmy and Jayber, Athey was given a sort of son-in-law like he had never had.

The two of us patched together made Athey a sort of son-in-law-come-lately p.265

And so Athey’s growing weakness brought with it not only grief but joy to Jayber.

That grief should come and bring joy with it was not something I felt able or even called upon, to sort out or understand.  I accepted the grief.  I accepted the joy.  I accepted that they came to me out of the same world. p.265

And when he was gone a mixture of gladness for his relief from bodily ailment and a sadness for missing him, in Della’s words:

She said, “There are leftovers, Jayber. There are things I did or said that I wish I hadn’t, and things I didn’t do or say that I wish I had. When he finally got free of his sickness and awful clumsiness there at the last, I was glad, and yet I was sorry I was glad, and yet I miss him. But am I all right? Yes, I am all right. You know, Jayber, Athey never knew his mother.” p.268

and for Jayber the glad prospect of Heaven–

…an unimaginable thought of something I could almost imagine, of a sound I could not imagine but could almost hear:  the outcry when a soul shakes off death at last and comes into Heaven.  I don’t speak of this because I “know” it.  What I know is that shout of limitless joy, love unbound at last, our only native tongue. p.268

But back to Jimmy.  When Athey leaves this world Jimmy loses not only his steadying influence but also the farm which had seemed to be his calling.

He still had his grin, but now it was turned away from the family.  Now it was turned to the world.  It was a grin of readiness.  He was waiting to see what the world might offer…something if not better at least different.  He wanted to hear its dare. You could still see the mischief in his grin, but you could see trouble too.  All he needed was a car. Loc.4920

He was wild, but he was also bewildered.  He was caught (as his father was caught) and he didn’t know how to get loose. Loc.5168

The minute he was old enough he joined the Army.  The rest is history as foreshadowed in Jayber’s words:

When I looked at him in his wildness and sadness and bewilderment ready to leave us, I would think what love had led to.  Ever since, remembering him, I have thought of that.

The War and the Economy

Port William began to die in the 1960’s–its inhabitants and their businesses, until ‘nobody wanted to live in Port William who wasn’t already in the habit of living there, or who could afford to live anyplace else.  The world had become pretty generally Ceceliafied.’

( I had to chuckle at that invented word ( ; describing someone who is not content to live where they are but assumes the best life is somewhere else!)

Farmers were aging and not being replaced.  Their ways of farming were being swallowed up by bigger methods and less diversity and the men who gathered in Jayber’s shop were facing the indignity of seeing the work they had spent their lives doing coming to an end with themselves. Their farms would be no more.  ‘The dignity of continuity had been taken away’

Both past and future were disappearing from them, the past because nobody would remember it, the future because nobody could imagine it  What they knew was passing from the world.  Before long it would not be known.  They were the last of their kind.

OK, so I can’t take this gloomy outlook and slump into a nostalgic sadness without filtering it through my theological sieve. Bear with me a moment. What comes to mind in contrast to this ending of an earthly legacy is Jesus, who in His death, in fact by His death, gained a legacy.  And so He went to the Cross gladly, for ‘the joy set before him’ and the prospect in so doing of ‘bringing many sons to glory’ to present to His Father.

“Behold I and the children which God hath given me.” Heb 2:13 KJV

Perhaps this is why it makes sense that His followers are those who ‘love not their lives even unto death’ and for whom ‘to live is Christ, to die is gain’.  Our legacy is to do the will of the One who sent us and to finish that work, whatever it is. Then no matter how it may play out on the surface we can know that we lived for God’s glory and that’s what matters.

“And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life.” Mt.19:29 NKJV

“For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it.” Mark 8:35 NKJV

Somehow this relates to the farmers all sitting around bemoaning the state of things, the passing of an era, the lack of offspring to carry on their farming…Ultimately the good of our lives must be in the living out our callings and God will see to the legacy they leave.

As for the War (in this case the Vietnam war) and its effect on the Economy… I feel that I’m in way over my head with all this. For this reason Berry’s rants in this section made it one of my least favorite parts. I did take a class in Economics in highschool and felt even then way out of my element.   As for war, is there anyone that likes it?  Is it enough to just say, ‘Go Home’ and not take part in it?  Is war always avoidable while there is evil in the world?I know just enough to know that there are no pat answers to what should or could have been different.

I suspect that conflicts are inevitable as long as sin remains in the world (see James’ (4:1) thoughts on ‘from whence come wars and fighting among you?’)  Evil allowed to run rampant is not the solution either.  I rest my hope in Jesus’ return to rule the world. Only then will true peace prevail. Even so come Lord Jesus!

For The Economy was studying the purpose of the War, which is to purchase and not have.   The customers of The War (all of us, that is) purchase life at a great cost and yet lose it.

And the War was just as busily studying the purpose of The Economy, which is to cause people to purchase what they do not need or do not want and to receive patiently what they did not expect.

Having paid for life, we receive death.

And such was the case for Port William with the coming home of Jimmy’s remains to join the Port William gathering in the churchyard….

Which brings me to my favorite tidbits from Jayber’s musings, as he wrestled with the grief of Jimmy’s seemingly meaningless death and his own helplessness in a time of war. He wrestles again with prayer:

In the most secret place of my soul I wanted to tell Him [God] that it was time for his coming.  If there was anything at all to what He had promised, why didn’t He come in glory with angels and lay His hands on the hurt children and awaken the dead soldiers… Why didn’t He cow our arrogance?  Lying awake in the night…I could imagine the almighty finger writing in stars for all the world to see: GO HOME.

But thinking such things was as dangerous as praying them.  I knew who had thought such thoughts before:  “Let Christ the King of Israel descend now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”  Where in my own arrogance was I going to hide?

Where did I get my knack for being a fool?  If I could advise God, why didn’t I just advise Him…to be on our side and give us victory and make sure that Jimmy Chatham had not died in vain?  I had to turn around and wade out of the mire myself.

Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave..

Berry’s explanation of why Jesus didn’t come down off the cross and declare His power is this:

He didn’t, He hasn’t, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves.  Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then.  From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to another by love forever would be ended.

Every knee will indeed bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. But for those who have refused to believe up until that point, reconciliation with God will be too late…And if Jesus  were to have  skipped the anguish of bearing the sin of the world and dying on the Cross, there would be no hope of reconciliation for anyone.  We would all be toast.  So it’s a good thing that God doesn’t listen to the dictates of man when we call out what He ‘should do’ if He were a good God…

In the meantime, between that Cross and His coming in Judgment the invitation is open:

“Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. “I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. “They will say of Me, ‘Only in the LORD are righteousness and strength.’ Men will come to Him, And all who were angry at Him will be put to shame. “In the LORD all the offspring of Israel Will be justified and will glory.” Is. 45:22-25 NASB

I love Jayber’s acknowledgment of his own foolish thinking: Where did I get my knack for being a fool?  This is a question we might all do well to ask and then follow up with a turning and a bowing and a glorying in God’s good plan of redemption!

These chapters conclude with another big change but a hopeful and restful one…Jayber’s old dream revived, the prospect of a ‘little patch down by the river, with trees and maybe a garden spot’ as he concludes his public life to commence a private one.




5 thoughts on “Jayber Crow–Chapters 24-26

  1. Dear Linda,
    I always appreciate all of your gleanings from these chapters! And I am so thankful that “Ultimately the good of our lives must be in the living out our callings and God will see to the legacy they leave.” My regrets would form an endless conversation with God, except for that beautiful forgiveness that He continues to offer to us! I keep hoping that Jayber will find the true Hope of that calling for himself. He carries so much wisdom when it comes to humility and one’s own weaknesses. But that is the first step towards embracing that Hope from Jesus, isn’t it? I’m really looking forward to his move to the river also. I know there will be more beautiful images there. I wonder if Wendell himself hears God’s voice more clearly when he is out in nature, and thus some of the beauty of those early years? Blessings to you!

    1. Yes, let’s hope Jayber’s humility doesn’t just render him pious and good enough without God… But alas this is just a story… With hopefully a happy ending. We soon shall see. Lots of lessons to learn for sure from Berry’s perceptive knowledge of human nature. Glad to be sharing this story with you, Bettie. I’m going to miss the weekly gathering!

  2. I really did hate to see Athey pass out of the Port William world and out of the narrative of Jayber’s story.

    And I’m glad you mentioned Della’s “leftovers.” That stopped me in my tracks, because I want to love my husband well, and I sure don’t want to have regrets, but know there’s always a trace of that in any relationship. Having just gone through the death of my mum, I know there are always leftovers, but reading The Great Divorce, Lewis gives consolation that evil will not invade Heaven and ruin our experience of complete and total good there.

    Yes to leaving our legacy in God’s hands and also to leaving the study of Economics to those who enjoy it and are called to it.

    And some of Wendell Berry’s description of Jayber’s little patch by the river could stand alone as essays just for the beauty of it.

    I appreciate your sieve — and every time I come here, I mean to tell you how fun it is that you have that childhood picture on your blog.

    1. ( : yes, I was a lot cuter when I was five… and yes, Athey was the best part of Jayber’s chronicling… and isn’t it awesome to think of no regrets. Probably I shouldn’t wait till heaven to be rid of them. Forgiveness is a pretty clean slate if I’d fully realize it! Just chewing on these words this morning: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the m an against whom the LORD will not count his sin.” So if He’s not remembering it, why do I dig it up in the form of regrets. Hmmm.

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