Saturday, November 11, 2006

A little thought for Election Week

“If we hope to correct our abuses of each other and of other races and of our land, and if our effort to correct these abuses is to be more than a political fad that will in the long run be only another form of abuse, then we are going to have to go far beyond public protest and political action. We are going to have to rebuild the substance and integrity of private life in this country. We are going to have to gather up the fragments of knowledge and responsibility that we have parceled out to the bureaus and the corporations and the specialists, and we are going to have to put those fragments back together again in our own minds and in our families and households and neighborhoods. We need better government, no doubt about it. But we also need better minds, better friendships, better marriages, better communities. We need persons and households that do not have to wait upon organizations, but can make necessary changes in themselves, on their own.
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For most of the history of this country our motto, implied or spoken, has been Think Big. I have come to believe that a better motto, and an essential one now, is Think Little. That implies the necessary change of thinking and feeling, and suggests the necessary work...The citizen who is willing to Think Little, and, accepting the discipline of that, to go ahead on his own, is already solving the problem. A man who is trying to live as a neighbor to his neighbors will have a lively and practical understanding of the work of peace and brotherhood, and let there be no mistake about it–he is doing that work. A couple who make a good marriage, and raise healthy, morally competent children, are serving the world’s future more directly and surely than any political leader, though they never utter a public word. A good farmer who is dealing with the problem of soil erosion on an acre of ground has a sounder grasp of that problem and cares more about it and is probably doing more to solve it than any bureaucrat who is talking about it in general. A man who is willing to undertake the discipline and difficulty of mending his own ways is worth more to the conservation movement than a hundred who are insisting merely that the government and the industries mend their ways.”
~Wendell Berry, “Think Little”

Thursday, November 09, 2006


We’ve had a string of “those days”–days of constant fussiness where the most I managed to get accomplished was getting dressed and making dinner. Then we had a couple of “those nights”–Gabriel wakes up at 4:00am happy as a lark, cooing and gurgling and ready to play. Fortunately, now that he has enough head control to sit up with my help, he seems to think we’re “playing” when I sit up and put him in my lap, even though my head keeps lolling to the side as I fall in and out of semi-wakefulness. While I sit with my son in our dark bedroom, I often find myself thinking about religious orders that wake at night to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, or saints like John Vianney who survived for years on two or three hours of sleep a night–in his case he was in such demand by his parishioners, particularly in giving counsel in the confessional, that sleep came second to prayer when he was finally able to retire for the evening. My need for sleep may perhaps be one of the many guaranteed signs that sainthood still lies far beyond my grasp. For the past several days, sleep has won out over my semi-scheduled prayer times. Whenever Gabriel slept, I slept. I tried to fall asleep being mindful of God’s presence, remembering a comment from (I think) St. Therese of Lisiuex. She noted that because she often fell asleep during her scheduled devotional times, she would console herself with the thought that just as earthly parents love their children just as much asleep as awake, so too must our Heavenly Father love us just as much asleep as awake...!

Friday, November 03, 2006

Rambling thoughts

Probe me God, know my heart;
try me, know my concern.
See if my way is crooked,
then lead me in the ancient paths.
~Psalm 139:23-24

I think I am beginning to realize why it is so difficult for many people–myself included at times–to recognize God at work in the world and in our lives. I just spent the last few days reading the beginning of The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry. In his essay “A Native Hill” he points out how so many of the structures of our culture do violence to the land upon which we dwell. For example, he notes the difference between paths–the characteristic mode of travel of the American Indian–and the roads that came to be built by the European settlers. While a path is “a sort of ritual of familiarity...a form of contact with a known landscape” that does not plow through but instead folds itself into the contours of that which is already given, a road is “a resistance against the landscape”, showing “not only the necessity for movement, but haste.”

Today I spent at least and hour driving back and forth on an interstate. Even though I am not personally responsible for the creation of this interstate, and the violence that happened to the natural Virginia hills was not the result of my particular choice, the fact that I spend so much time in close contact with asphalt and green highway signs that spill past me at 65 miles per hour cannot be neutral. I move at the pace of a machine, rather than a human or even animal gait. I am traveling upon a resistance rather than an acceptance. A kind of structural non serviam to the natural rather than a fiat to the land as it was and is.

I don’t mean to say that roads cannot bring good–I only mean to point out the fact that we should not spent too much thoughtless time immersed in the structures of our culture without being mindful of their effect on our souls. I read once that the Amish reason for being against much of modern technology is not because of the intrinsic evil of progress, but because they believe that it will cause the disintegration of the family. The leaders of their communities evaluate each new measure of technological “progress” in terms of how it will affect the family and decide whether to permit it or avoid it. The book mentioned as an example central heating–the Amish felt that if all the rooms of a house were heated, rather than just the one large central room heated by a wood stove, a family would be driven to all corners of the house and spend less quality time together. Something I continue to give thought to, particularly when I feel more like Martha than Mary, unable to give myself over to the “one thing” that is necessary in this life.