Farmer-writer Wendell Berry is a guide to me, as to so many others. Several years ago, writing about learning to see, and so to care for, his Kentucky farm, Berry gave me new ways of thinking about “place” and “community” (church):
One’s work may be defined in part by one’s visions, but it is defined in part too by problems, which the work leads to and reveals. And daily life, work and problems gradually alter the visions. It invariably turns out, I think, that one’s first vision of one’s place was to some extent an imposition on it. But if one’s sight is clear and if one stays on and works well, one’s love gradually responds to the place as it really is, and one’s visions gradually image possibilities that are really in it. . . Correct discipline, given enough time, gradually removes one’s self from one’s line of sight. One works to better purposes then and makes fewer mistakes, because at last one sees where one is. Two human possibilities of the highest order thus come within reach: what one wants can become the same as what one has, and one’s knowledge can cause respect for what one knows. “Correct discipline” and “enough time” are irreplaceable notions (Wendell Berry, Standing By Words, p. 70)
Seeing where we are, seeing the places and people of our lives for what and who they are–in all their marvel and messiness, all their potential and pain, all their possibility and incompleteness–is, it seems to me, the first task. Of course, there is a second, or simultaneous, “first task”: learning to see ourselves as clearly as we can.
This kind of seeing is the prerequisite to love and to meaningful work. It takes time, sometimes a lot of time, and it calls for a willingness to let go of what we were sure we knew in order to receive what we discover to be truer still.