Two years ago, I celebrated Easter in Sicily, in a country-wide Covid lockdown in an apartment looking out at the Tyrrhenian Sea, listening to Handel’s Messiah and hearing it differently than I had in all my years.
The trumpet shall sound… and we shall be changed.
Over and over again during those first months of the pandemic, it was said that things will never be the same. In every article and every posting was a claim of a new normal – a release from the insanity of over-working capitalism and the destruction of our Earth. In this imposed period of rest, it was said, we were being renewed and the earth was too. Wisdom would prevail. We would return to what was truly important: family, community, nature, peace. The fundamental necessities.
Two years later and mass genocide is happening live on TV. War is raining down destroying cities. The rich have gotten richer and corporations—those for-profit machines with more rights than people—are hijacking our economy.
Have we learned anything? Has anything truly changed?
Except that maybe perhaps we are hurting in new ways. More insidious is the ache, the numbing pain, the precipice of despair.
In all this, I offer you the wisdom of Wendell Berry. Mr. Berry is a literary savant. More than that, he would tell you, he is a farmer, having farmed his entire life in Port Royal, Kentucky. His connection to the land informs everything: his faith, his relationships, his activism, and his writing.
The following poem was first published in the 1970s and I only discovered it around 2006. Since then, it has been my annual Easter poem, to be read at every Easter gathering I have hosted and attended. The message is more salient now than ever.
Be joyful even though you have considered the facts.
I was going to wait until Sunday morning to publish this post, but I can’t shake the feeling that now, in these last days of Holy Week, is when we need this reminder. Not to be glossed over in the joy of Easter but instead pondered in the weight of death – to foster the understanding of our interconnectedness. Spring is all the more sweet because we have endured Winter. And sweeter still when we participate in it and not simply observe it.
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by Wendell Berry
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion — put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go.
Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
Buona Pasqua. A blessed and contemplative Easter, dear friends.
And two more by Mr. Berry, because I love the symbolism of three:
The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world 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 with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.