Why Urban Christians Need Wendell Berry
At root, Berry's Port William is a worshiping community. Indeed, I don't know another community, fictional or real, that so gives itself to worship. That worship doesn't always come in the shape of conventional public worship, but the life of Port William is shot through with the gratitude and joy that marks the worshipful life.
In one of the most luminous sections of the novel Jayber Crow, the title character says he is puzzled by the ascetic brand of Christianity he observed in the local church. He goes on to note the way that the people of Port William, including the minister, abandoned themselves to utter joy and delight over their meals and other simple gifts. "Some of them could make you a fair speech on the pleasures of a good drink of water or a patch of wild raspberries," Jayber says.
What I see in Berry, and what I've been learning to live out, little by little, is the centrality of worship to personal and communal health. By that I mean something like one of Clyde Kilby's resolutions for mental health: "At least once every day I shall look steadily up at the sky and remember that I, a consciousness with a conscience, am on a planet traveling in space with wonderfully mysterious things above and about me." In short, Berry has taught me to be grateful for Lincoln, grateful for the particularities of the plains and her people. Before I read Berry, my relationship to my hometown was ambiguous at best. I didn't hate it, but I certainly didn't love it either. I had learned to tolerate it while counting down the days until graduation and the chance to move to bigger, more exciting pastures.