In a hostile world , a search for healing

Wendell Berry is a farmer, writer and recipient of The National Humanities Medal. In his writings he reveals hidden truths, truths many would rather not face. He is, perhaps, a conscience from which we would rather turn away.

Born in 1934 in rural Henry County Kentucky, his poems are a reflection of a life lived in a deep relationship with the land and with all the creatures that inhabit the land. In his poem on “How to Be a Poet” he writes:

“There are no unsacred places;
there are only sacred places

and desecrated places.”

In contemplating these words, they shed light on so much that is wounded and broken in our lives, our nation and the world.

We live in a world characterized by animosity from hostility between the political parties to the antagonism between the “haves” and the “have-nots” in our nation and world. Trust has been called into question in our religious, and now, athletic institutions because of the sexual exploitation of children.

The nation faces serious economic problems and there seems to be no adults willing or able to begin moving toward a solution in a fair and bi-partisan nature for the good of all.

We are engaged in a war, the "War On Terror" that is so large and ill-defined it appears a war with spider webs: the more you fight them the more entangled you become in the stickiness.

We also find ourselves in a hostile relationship with the natural world, exploiting her for the energy civilization requires, and in the process turning the environment against us. The world’s ecosystem is stressed and some believe it is beyond our ability to ever re-establish a healthy balance.

As animosity characterizes our world, alienation appears to define our spirits. We are estranged from one another, and feel isolated and alone. We are cut off from any real sense of being a part of the world, and find ourselves powerless in the face of forces that seem too large to change.

The Occupy Movement is a symbolic expression of this alienation. To occupy is a demonstration of the need to make oneself an affective part of something. At the same time, the Movement has no agreed upon agenda. It proclaims its alienation from the world of power politics and economics by stating they are "the 99%” and “this is what democracy looks like,” but it is powerless to even suggest a solution or a way forward.

It occurs to me these circumstances are symptomatic of the point poet Wendell Berry is offering us. We cannot bring peace to the conflictual condition in our world, nor can we heal our spiritual alienation, unless we begin to recognize the sacred nature of the world in which we live. “There are no unsacred places … [only] desecrated places.”

As I wonder about Berry’s wise words, it makes sense to me that our plight is the result of living in a desecrated world, a world we have desecrated simply by not acknowledging its sacred worth. If we do not recognize and relate to the natural world as sacred, we cannot live in any kind of meaningful and fulfilling relationship with each other. If our difficulties are to be overcome, the remedy must begin with a re-connection to the world as sacred place.

The renewal of a sacred relationship with the earth and her creatures will take time and intention. We need to become mindful of the ground on which we walk and the land upon which we build our homes, and extract the resources that sustains us.

We will need to exercise this mindfulness because our habit has been to take it all for granted. The return to a sacred relationship with the world will not be an easy journey, but it is a journey that will open to us a new and deeper experience of being alive. It is a journey worth taking.

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