I keep forgetting to tell you that the title of this blog is from one of Wendell Berry’s “Sabbath Poems.” I understand that this semester some of you have had a bit of a complex relationship with Mr. Berry in Honors Writing, so perhaps my suppressing the title was an unconscious avoidance. In any case, I can’t help feeling that a part of our mission as participants in this Honors Program is to inventory wonders in a world that too often archives anxieties about commercial “goods.”
Yesterday, a friend sent me a quotation from a Berry novel Jayber Crow, a few lines that inventoried a wonder. It’s a bit strange to include these lines here, because, at least at first hearing, they don’t sound as if they’re speaking in a Reformed register. You’ve noticed Dr. Sinnema’s poster, “Heaven: Is It Part of Creation?” That’s our favorite way of talking about the life to come. I’m glad that Dr. Sinnema is talking about Heaven, because sometimes it feels around here like the Place That Must Not Be Named. For good and bad reasons, we can be suspicious of enthusiasm for the Other World, except as the future comes rushing into the present, except as Heaven comes to Earth. To be too enthusiastic about the next life sounds retreatist or escapist or dualist or rapturist or fideist or some other ist we use as grist for distinguishing ourselves from the heavenly minded.
But let me run the Berry lines by you all the same. A bit of backstory first: a woman named Della is grieving the death of her husband. Somehow she finds wherewithal to anticipate seeing him again. And Jayber says,
She went her way, then, and left me standing there still as a stone, all filled to running over with the force of what she had put into my mind.
It was the thought of Heaven. I thought an unimaginable thought of something I could almost imagine, of a sound I could not imagine but could almost hear: the outcry when a soul shakes off death at last and comes into Heaven. I don’t speak of this because I “know” it. What I know is that shout of limitless joy, love unbounded at last, our only native tongue.
That line about our native tongue has me asking this morning if it’s wise to so scrub our speech of otherworldliness that we expunge joy. To speak only the dialects of this world—to speak, for example, in the ironic, barely disguised worry of on-air pundits—can be a kind of detachment from those who suffer and grieve, an escapism in which we’re never fully present to the moment, because we’re always listing what is to be done.
So let the thought of Heaven come today, let it come, and let it leave you standing still, filled to running over with the almost imaginable.