This was a wonderful book by Ragan Sutterfield (author of the great book Farming As A Spiritual Discipline) on the life and work of Wendell Berry. Berry has had an immense impact on a diverse group of people. He is often quoted by spiritual writers, has influenced the agricultural world, and is an award winning writer in multiple genres. For all of this, Sutterfield calls Berry an amateur. Berry calls himself the same. But sutterfield reminds us that the word amateur has, at its roots, the meaning “for the love of it.” Berry does what he does out of love. Interestingly, his love stands in stark contrast to what much of the Western world loves and as such is seen as a prophetic (Ch 12). The author also makes strong parallels between Berry and St. Benedict. Thought the two are very different in many respects, they are after much of the same things when it comes right down to it. The author delves into this during the first chapter and it is very interesting (though I wish he had gone a little further with it).
Throughout the book the author brings us to many important themes that appear in Berry’s multifaceted work. Humility is explored in chapter 2. Here very important things are said about creatureliness and the necessary limit of the creature. Love (Ch 3) and economics (Ch 4) are intertwined both with each other and with the creatureliness that is explored in the first chapter. What book about Berry would be complete without a chapter on Sabbath (Ch 6) and membership (Ch 8) ? One of my favorite chapters, however, was the chapter on Berry’s exploration of peaceableness (Ch 11). I was particularly drawn to the idea of “authentic patriotism” and find that such a discusion is of crucial importance during the time in which we live. This chapter also explores the necessity of imagination when dealing with the conflict within our world. Sutterfield writes “If we cannot imagine our enemies, if we cannot begin to see them as bearers of God’s image, then it will be easier to kill them.” Sutterfiled does a great job of piecing together Berry’s thoughts in this chapter. The chapter on Berry as a prophet, as previously mentioned, was very compelling. Berry’s work is beautiful but it’s also edgy at times. This poet, like the poet-prophets of old, has the ability to snap you awake up with his writing. Finally, the short afterward was great. Here the author had several questions which Berry answered. I found a clarity and graciousness in his words here and was thankful this section was included.
If you are a Berry fan this book is for you. If you are interested in agriculture or environmental studies – or creation theology for that matter – this is for you. If you haven’t read Berry but are interested in his work, this is a really great place to start as the author explores Berry from a number of angles and through his various genres of writing (fiction, poetry, essays, etc). Great book.
*Thanks to Netgalley for the advanced digital copy of this book