It is hard to know which was more difficult for Noah: to build the ark when there was no sign of rain, or to be in the ark with the animals for an entire year. As rabbinic tradition has it, during those 12 months Noah was so busy tending to the needs of all those animals that he had no time to sleep. The ark represents much more than an escape vessel.
Many years ago, when I was struggling to balance the demands of divinity school and the need to produce a weekly sermon for a congregation that sat patiently and graciously through the efforts of its student pastor, I turned regularly to a little book with a catchy title, Your God Is Too Small, by J. B. Phillips.
The excerpt from Wendell Berry’s latest book was for me a Christmas gift to savor. It stirred memories and reflections about grandfathers. As Berry suggests, the grandparents of people my age lived in a different world from ours. They never boarded an airplane or booted up a computer. Before the days of joint replacement surgery, many were partially crippled and lived with pain.
Recently I celebrated 15 years as pastor of a congregation in East Texas of under 200 members with about half of them present for Sunday worship. At denominational meetings and around town I’m asked, “When are you going to a bigger church? Why do you stay?” Sometimes I give a long, rambling explanation, but often I respond with, “Because I read too much Wendell Berry.”
In 1977 Wendell Berry warned that the rise of corporate farming and the disappearance of the family farm were destroying local communities and economies. These developments also caused soil erosion, and reduced the quality of the food we eat.
Wendell Berry has lived as a farmer and writer in Kentucky for a quarter century. In his fiction, essays and poetry, he often meditates on the human relation to the earth. His poem “The Slip” is precipitated by a disaster. A river bank has given way, leaving an acre of farmland swallowed by water.