An important writer of the 21st century is the poet, novelist, and essayist Wendell Berry. Though he has no idea of his influence, Wendell has had a profound impact on my ministry. 

This has come in part by way of his novels called the Port William Membership—stories of the people of the fictional village of Port William, Kentucky. In the novel Jaber Crow, the principal character attends seminary. He finds however, that his studies rather than offering answers to his many questions, leads to an ever-cascading complexity of deeper questions. Dismayed that religion will not give him the foundation upon which thought he would construct his life, Jaber leaves seminary. He finds his way Port William where an abandoned shop inspires him to become the village barber. Over the years, cutting hair and listening to many from near and far who have come to his little shop to spend time in his generous and supportive companionship, Jaber finds his vocation. Jaber becomes village pastor, priest, and parson. As he listens to their stories, complaints, fears, joys, and tall tales—without judgment and with great love and affirmation—Jaber becomes a vital force and presence in the community. His warm and welcoming shop of space and hospitality becomes the foundation, the ‘answer’ of hope and assurance Jaber assumed would be found in some other place, in some other way. 

Before leaving seminary, Jaber wrestles with God. He says: By then I wasn’t just asking questions; I was being changed by them. I was being changed by my prayers, which dwindled down nearer and nearer to silence, which weren’t confrontations with God but with the difficulty---in my own mind, or in the human lot—of knowing what or how to pray. Lying awake at night, I could feel myself being changed---into what, I had no idea…I was a lost traveler wandering in the woods, needing to be on my way somewhere but not knowing where.

Though many of us may have difficulty admitting it, we, too, often feel as if we were lost travelers wandering in the woods, needing to be on our way somewhere but not knowing where.  

Any seeking the assurance and companionship of Jaber’s little barbershop in which to share stories of life’s trials and tribulations without embarrassment are welcome to Christ Church’s Quiet Day on Saturday, March 7 from 9:30 a.m. till 3:00 p.m. in the Meade Room. Starting from the wisdom of third century desert monastics, we shall read poetry, excerpts of novels, and with silence and conversation discern how we can move from inanimate answers (old religion) to the creativity of God’s wonder and grace for a new time.

I hope you will join us. For registration information, click here. For more about quiet days in general and about other upcoming retreats, visit our Retreats and Quiet Days page on the website.