Resting in the Grace of the World | April 16, 2023 by Rev. Dr. Kathryn Benton
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.
I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light.
For a time I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
The opening poem, The Peace of Wild Things, was written by Wendell Berry, poet and naturalist. I was reminded of these words on the way to work last week. I noticed a wetland next to the road, with cars speeding by going to work. In the water there was a pair of wood drakes and on the shore stood a heron. I’m not sure I could experience their peace in the context of city traffic. Are we still able to experience the peace of wild things…the presence of still water? This flight to the natural world can not only provide respite, but it can remind us of our place in nature…it can remind us of the natural processes that actually govern the world. It can remind us that we are integral parts of creation…not over and above it. Although we have a profound responsibility to protect it, we are, at the same time, part of it. It is the belief in our superiority that has caused us to use creation as we would a Kleenex. Instead, Berry points out that we can be free, for a time…we can rest in the grace of the world…in the sacred moment, much like other life forms on earth are able to do.
It has been several years since Berry wrote these words. For most of us, there are scarcely any places left for us to experience the peace of wild things. And it has been 53 years since the first Earth Day…an awakening from the deep night of industrialism…of anthropocentrism…of our realization that not only is it wrong to poison the water, the land and the air of our precious planet, but also that this reckless course would mean that we are fouling our own nest…our own food…our own water…our own air. Now there is no question about this, but still we have, for the most part, been unable to save our earth or ourselves. I am reminded of the inability of someone who is addicted to a behavior or a substance who cannot change…we cannot change our habits of consumerism…of waste…of power over the natural world. We have not learned the ways in which to become healthy…ways in which to recover from our destructive ways. We are impatient and mostly unaware of earth’s processes…the processes that govern life on earth. We know that these processes are based on recycling…each drop of water, for instance, that is on earth right now has been with us since the beginning…nothing is lost in the universe…there is no garbage can…no garbage day for the earth. We are all bits of stardust from the first flaring forth. And each bit is recycled in nature…
So, instead of becoming impatient to solve the problem of pollution, species extinction, climate change…we must find a way to come into this peace and learn from the earth and her processes. Dr. Hazaiah Williams, the late pastor of The Church for Today in Berkeley, wrote about this peace…about the ability to be still and to have patience…to wait. He wrote,
It is not easy to be still; for the times are so fearsome.
It is indeed not easy. We would have to stop our incessant busyness…our movement from one thing to another, without reflection, without contemplation, without stopping to listen. Williams continues,
If we attempt to listen and lose some ground, it seems
necessary to desert the voice. Memories, nostalgic stuff, hopes, fears –
all of these will tempt the weary spirit.
In our attempt to listen…to be still, we feel that we might be missing out. Instead we will be deserting the still, small voice of God that is waiting to teach us…waiting to provide that grace Berry spoke of. Williams continues,
And, if in the break-up and drama of the moment, God is not there…wait, for God may appear with a message and a plan in the quietness that surrounds the noise of the hour.
We need to wait then…wait and listen for the sound of the genuine…the voice that will teach us the ways of earth, the ways of the day-blind stars that wait for their light.
Williams says that the divine message may consist of a plan…a plan that was birthed in the quietness that surrounds the noise of the hour. Now this may seem difficult to understand, but what I think Williams is pointing to is the fact that we may not have that peace…there may be noise surrounding our waiting moment. Howard Thurman speaks of this waiting moment in his reflection entitled, How Good to Center Down. He speaks of taking time for contemplation…for centering ourselves. We need this centering. It is part of what Fellowship Church is all about and part of what will help us to understand our own place in the circle of existence…as part of life…a part of life that has failed to understand life’s teachings. Thurman also wrote about waiting as a window…
Waiting is a window opening on many landscapes… It is the experience of recovering balance when catapulted from one’s place. It is the quiet forming of a pattern of recollection in which there is called into focus the fragmentary values from myriad encounters of many kinds in a lifetime of living. It is to watch a gathering darkness until all light is swallowed up completely without the power to interfere or bring a halt. Then to continue one’s journey in the darkness with one’s footsteps guided by the illumination of remembered radiance is to know courage of a peculiar kind—the courage to demand that light continue to be light even in the surrounding darkness. To walk in the light while darkness invades, envelops, and surrounds is to wait on the Lord. This is to know the renewal of strength.
This is to walk and faint not.
Looking out of that window on the many landscapes of life…when we find that we have been evicted from our natural place in this world…we remember and contemplate our experience there at the window until the sun goes down…until there is a gathering darkness. We continue our journey…illuminated by a remembered radiance…perhaps remembered from our common ground with all life and its processes. This is the waiting moment of the day-blind stars…waiting with confidence for their light. The light and dark are both required…they are a part of the circle of existence in which we live…it is part of our renewal and our ability to walk and faint not…in our ability to experience that freedom in the grace of the world.