Is This the Right Place? A Parable of a Farm

 

In “People, Land, and Community,” Wendell Berry writes about what it is like when a farmer finds a new farm he wants to buy. “No matter what one’s agricultural experience may have been, one’s connection to a newly bought farm will begin in love that is more or less ignorant. One loves the place because present appearances recommend it, and because they suggest possibilities irresistibly imaginable. One’s head, like a lover’s, grows full of visions. . .

 

When one buys the farm and moves there to live, something different begins. Thoughts begin to be translated into acts. Truth begins to intrude with its matter-of-fact. One’s work may be defined in part by one’s visions, but it is defined in part too by problems, which the work leads to and reveals. And daily life, work, and problems gradually alter the visions. It invariably turns out, I think, that one’s first vision of one’s place was to some extent an imposition on it. But if one’s sight is clear and if one stays on and works well, one’s love gradually responds to the place as it really is, and one’s visions gradually image possibilities that are really in it. Vision, possibility, work, and life—all have been changed by mutual correction. Correct discipline, given enough time, gradually removes one’s self from one’s line of sight. One works to better purpose and makes fewer mistakes, because at last one sees where one is. Two human possibilities of the highest order thus come within reach: what one wants can become the same as what one has, and one’s knowledge can cause respect for what one knows (in The Art of the Commonplace, ed. by Norman Wirzba [Shoemaker & Hoard, 2002], pp. 186–87).

This is a “parable,” I think, and so about more than farmers and new farms. Yesterday, May 1, 2012, was about vicars and interns and deaconesses and pastors, and the new places where they will serve. When you opened your envelope and, perhaps, met people from your new place, you saw “visions” of “possibilities irresistibly imaginable”—someone might even have pictures.

After you move there and get settled in, “daily life, work, and problems [will] gradually alter the visions.” But if your sight is clear and if you stay on and work well, your love will gradually respond to the place as it really is. . .

Psalm 1 insists that the man who is like a tree planted by streams of water “prospers” in all that he does (Ps. 1:3). Does “prosper” necessarily mean “succeed”? I don’t think success is excluded, but I wonder whether “prosper” has also to do with how the “blessed man” grows interiorly—more firmly confident in God, in whose way he is rooted.

Stay on, work well, love the place where God is planting you, prosper, in Jesus’ service.

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