Wild things, Peace, and Wendell Berry
“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.” -Psalm 19:1-5
It is this Scripture that I find so well captured in Wendell Berry’s poem, The Peace of Wild Things,
"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 with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free."
In this poem, Berry captures something of the magic and mystery that God has instilled in His world; specifically, in the created realm: The sun, moon, stars, animals, oceans, and more.
There is a raw, captivating, soul-quieting beauty that God has put within His world — and all of it is a captivating choir of testimonies to the goodness and greatness of God, our Creator.
Berry’s poem begins with a very common human emotion: Worry. We worry about all kinds of things. Berry specifically mentions children…pointing to a very common type and method of worrying: Worrying about tomorrow. What will/what might happen?
And what I like about Berry’s answer is that we can find peace from the wildness of the earth…“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…”
There is a raw wildness about the world — but in its rawness, the wild is not chaotic; it is not worried. It certainly can be (tornadoes, earthquakes, etc.), but for the most part, God’s creation reflects His character. He is a God of order and not chaos (1 Cor. 14:33). Birds act like birds, water acts like water, trees act like trees, and so on and so forth. And there is peace in nature’s consistent and predictable behavior.
Perhaps you’ve experienced the peace of an ocean marsh at sunset. The sun droops, casting brilliant beams or purples, golds, and reds across the evening sky. Gulls sound overhead; waves gently lap the shore; a steady breeze rustles the sea grasses. I can almost smell the salt of the lower Cape Fear. And the wildness of the moment is filled with peace. There is a deep sense of rightness about it. For a moment, there is no worry.
I think that’s what the Psalmist meant when he writes, “Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.” The world is always telling the truth and beauties of God; giving us glimpses and experiences in the wild things of the world.
-And I think this is Berry’s point because, in calling this the peace of wild things, he notes, “I come into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”
Is that not an incredible thought! What makes the wild things of the world so peaceful? They are peaceful because they lack the dread of grief-filled forethought. They lack worry! They do not worry about what will happen in their lives. They do not worry about tomorrow’s needs and struggles; they do not worry about the world in which their offspring will grow up. They simply exist as God created them to be.
In many ways, the peace of God’s wild things are pure embodiments of His instructions to us, “...do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”
I think that’s one of the beautiful gifts of God’s wild things: They give us a glimpse of life without worry. “They do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”
Mark Twain once said it this way, “I am an old man now, and have known a great many troubles. Most of them never happened.”
Our worries are many. Not because they have to be, but because we let them be. Much of our worry is unfounded and a lack of faith in the God Who never fails; the God Who promises never to leave us or forsake us; a lack of faith in the God Who knows our every need and promises to keep us unto eternity.
Much of our grief about the future grows out of a lack of trust in God. And Wendell Berry eloquently reminds us that a brief trip into the wild things of nature can be a personal retreat into the beauties of trusting God.
“For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”
Wendell Berry is one of the greatest American writers, poets, storytellers, cultural commentators, and environmentalists. His writings have influenced untold numbers of farmers, agriculturalists, naturalists, and normal people. His writing touches everyone.