The Field is Tilled and Left to Grace

beetsIn light of winter’s slowly loosening grip, I’ve been reading Wendell Berry’s Sabbath poems (collected in A Timbered Choir). Poem X of 1979 (p. 18) is especially beautiful :

Whatever is foreseen in joy
Must be lived out from day to day.
Vision held open in the dark
By our ten thousand days of work.
Harvest will fill the barn; for that
The hand must ache, the face must sweat.

And yet no leaf or grain is filled
By work of ours; the field is tilled
And left to grace. That we may reap,
Great work is done while we’re asleep.

When we work well, a Sabbath mood
Rests on our day, and finds it good.

I have always liked to think that there is something magical about gardening and farming, but Berry describes this magic in a more romantic way: the field is tilled and left to grace. Isn’t there also something magical, fantastical, about grace? Like Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3, one plants, another waters, but God gives the grace for growth, and we are God’s field. Like Jesus says in Matthew 13, seed is sown in faith, but in God’s mysterious providence the good soil is all that produces good fruit. It’s not surprising that Paul and Jesus use agricultural pictures for the gospel. The hand aches and the face sweats as the Word is sown and hearts are tilled, watered, and ultimately left to grace. That we may reap, great work is done while we’re asleep.

Magic is all around us. Whether it’s in God’s special grace or common grace, it is inescapable. To relate it to another recent read of mine, this was one of C.S. Lewis’ purposes with his space trilogy: there should be an aspect of romance and magic in science. Lewis’ work in part was a criticism of the cold, hard, distant scientism of his day, which has only since strengthened. Science isn’t (or shouldn’t be) cold and hard; because it is sustained and ordained by a personal, loving God it is warm and wonderful and and magical. Like Robert Farrar Capon described the magic and grace of wine: “Sugar in the grape and yeast on the skins is a divine idea, not a human one. Man’s part in the process consists of honest and prudent management of the work that God has begun.”

Berry views the science of agriculture from a different viewpoint than magic: that of grace. Grace can be magical, but grace trumps magic because grace comes from somewhere, Someone.


One thought on “The Field is Tilled and Left to Grace

  1. Well said. Although I understand the theological reasons for the “desacralizing of nature” pursued by the protestant reformers and their heirs, I’ve always felt there was something a bit dry about their project. Lewis spoke of this well in his wonderful little essay, “Myth Became Fact” and Chesterton gets at it even better, I think, in Chapter 4 of his Orthodoxy, “The Ethics of Elfland.” If you’ve never read it, I think you’d really enjoy it.

    I appreciate your posts–even if I don’t always have anything worthwhile to add to them…


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