When despair 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 for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
This poem, “The Peace of the Wild Things”, is one of Wendell Berry’s most popular and beloved poems, and one of my personal favorites. My grandparents have it framed in their kitchen and I stop and read it every time I visit them. I have reflected on it and read it numerous times. But recently, I realized why it appeals to me so much: it is full of Catholic imagery.
Worry: A Universal Experience
Berry, a Kentucky farmer and writer, is a well-known Christian, and his faith seeps into his work. This poem is no different.
Berry begins his poem by speaking to a human experience that, Catholic or not, parent or not, everyone will experience: worry.
We have all experienced the insomnia that is the result of late-night worry. Maybe the source of our anxiety was an unexpected diagnosis, an argument with a spouse, or injustices present in the world. Lying in bed feels helpless when we are worried. And, for some reason, wandering about in the night as we think seems more productive than remaining in bed, tossing and turning.
Encountering God in the Wild
In the poem, Berry wanders outdoors and feels himself surrounded by grace. As Catholics, grace is much more than an abstract concept, it has a very physical component. In the Sacraments, we feel the water poured over our heads, we hear the words of absolution, we taste the Bread of Life.
I think the “grace of the world” that Berry speaks of is the presence of God in His physical creation.
In Matthew 6, Jesus says:
Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more important than they?
He continues on a few verses later:
Learn from the way the wildflowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?
Here, Jesus tells us very plainly we can find grace in the natural world. In fact, I think He is saying it is one of His intended purposes for the natural world. It exists to bring us peace and rest and to ease our worry.
How could we not feel His grace when surrounded by something He so lovingly created?
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The Peace of the Wild Things
The magnificent Catholic churches I have seen all over the world were built to draw our attention to something—Someone—greater than ourselves.
The splendor of the mountains, the green grass, the flowing stream, are the cathedral God built for Himself at the beginning of time. Just like Berry, I have felt grace present in the natural world. Gazing at millions of twinkling stars in the night has a way of making my problems feel smaller, less pressing, and finite in the presence of something so infinite. He can be trusted with our worries and our cares.
The next time you find yourself riddled with anxiety and unable to sleep, I hope you will read this poem, and then step outside into the night. I hope you will look up the stars and find hope in those twinkling lights in the dark. I hope each little star you count brings you closer and closer to the caring arms of Our Lord.
Just as the love and grace God extends us is endless, so are the ways in which He can extend it to us. Berry’s poem is a welcome reminder that we are invited to “rest in the grace of the world.”BIS Reads: The Peace of the Wild Things #BISblog // Click To Tweet
Bond Strong lives in the mountains of southwest Virginia with her husband, Reece, and their two sons, Willis and Harmon. She owns a locally-focused food, gift, and antique shop. She is a former Methobapticostal, and her conversion story can be found here.