Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Real Work

Recently, we discovered a poem by Wendell Berry called 'The Real Work'. Here it is.

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.
From Standing by Words (copyright 1983)

This poem came to my mind today, as I underwent my customary struggle to let myself enter into retreat (the familiar internal monologue telling me I should be 'working', that other people were 'working' this morning so why was I just doing 'nothing' etc etc).

Berry suggests that our 'real work' can only really begin, can only really be revealed to us, once we are in the place of poverty of spirit - once we no longer know what to do, and no longer know which way to go, once we are baffled and to some degree blocked.

It struck me, as I sat at the edge of Lake Ginninderra, that these retreat mornings are fundamentally about returning to that place of poverty. I have no particular agenda - I don't really know what to desire or hope for. I am aware of a vast not knowing encompassing my life and the life of Benedictus. What are we being called to? How will it happen?

These mornings are about letting myself dwell awhile in that space of unknowing. They are about letting myself touch back into the ground, letting myself be renewed by its energy as I wait on the silence of God. They're about being available to become aware of 'the real work', and maybe available to let 'the real work' be done in me.

And this morning, I realised, they're also about praise - the praise that isn't forced jollity. but the rising up of wonder at things and being so deeply glad that they are. Praise isn't a word I've resonated with particularly in the past - so much of the church's 'praise' seems about just saying what we think we ought to say to God.

But did you know that the bark of a silver birch is studded with diamonds?

When we are able to be really present to what is, then gladness is our response. Gladness - and the urge to praise - so that the words of the Gloria seem suddenly real: 'We praise you, we bless you, we adore you, we glorify you, we give you thanks for your great glory'.

Praise and poverty of spirit ... both doorways to, both aspects of, 'the work'. Praise be.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Sarah, I too have been pondering this simple and yet profound poem. Partly because I have been baffled much of late. Your reflections on poverty and praise are a help to me. And, no, I' didn't know that the bark of silver birch is studded with diamonds, even though I have always loved silver birch trees. I'll pay more attention next time I see one. Praise be, indeed!