Wendell Berry and Rest

Rest artwork by Chris BennettThis past Summer, the pastors of Sojourn blessed me with a three month sabbatical. Several people asked me what I did on my break:

  • What I wrote
  • What I accomplished

…and I told them the same thing every time: absolutely nothing. This was a time to put work down and bring restoration to my soul. I just journeyed through a short passage of scripture each week, meditating on the same verse daily, and answered a few reflective questions a pastor friend had prepared for me.

Besides my Bible, I read A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 by Wendell Berry. These are poems from Berry’s own Sunday morning “walking meditations.” I read this poem often:

Whatever is forseen 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.

In this poem, he captures the essential rhythms of work and rest: good work leads to good rest and good rest leads to good work.

  • How do you trust that great work is done when you’re asleep?
  • Do you have a “sabbath day”?
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5 Responses to “Wendell Berry and Rest”

  1. katherine groce April 20, 2012 at 5:44 pm #

    a timely post for our family as we cycle from toiling in the fields, both working our 2nd jobs, and learning how to be parents. The days run together, the few hours we have as husband & wife are often spent tackling the next task. This morning, in the pre-dawn light, as I nursed our son and Luke prepared to go to the farm, we read Psalm 62 and remembered the rest & peace available to us in the Father. It’s a movement towards Sabbath, which we hope to do better & more fully.

    • Daniel Montgomery April 22, 2012 at 12:41 am #

      Thanks for sharing a sweet picture of seeking sabbath.

  2. John H May 16, 2012 at 10:28 pm #

    How do you justify taking 3 months off work when almost no one else is anywhere is afforded that luxury? Some teachers get that kind of time off, but outside of them, almost no one else does. This including the people you pastor. No business I’ve ever worked for has felt like the best strategy for me to do my best work was to take a few weeks off at once, let alone 3 months. (I wish they’d consider it, lol.) Just curious about how you would respond to that.

    Do you think it may be problematic to respond to people struggling with how their work has drained them without understanding that experience in your current work? Or does the time off provide you with clarity so valuable to your ability to instruct that it’s worth you not being present and active in that time? Even if that’s the case, do you feel like there’s an egotism in believing you’re one of the few worthy of that clarity?

    This is an honest question and though the tone sounds critical it’s not intended as a cheap shot at you. I don’t intend the question to be rhetorical or sarcastic and I’m curious about your response. Thanks.

    • Bobby Gilles May 18, 2012 at 1:45 pm #

      Hi John. Daniel has been out of town on pastor/church planter training this week, so he hasn’t seen this.

      Having worked in “the marketplace” for call centers, a law firm and a factory (among other jobs), I’ve had to punch clocks, work 12-hour shifts from 6pm tp 6am, deal with demanding clients and bosses, and get a doctor’s note for calling in sick. So I get where you’re coming from.

      However, having worked on staff at Sojourn for over three years I can tell you that in many ways ministry is more difficult. Daniel doesn’t get three months off every year. And, retreats and sabbaticals do not fully make up for the total hours a lead pastor works in a given year (or many other ministry leaders as well) – and this includes last year when Daniel had the long sabbatical.

      The job is also more emotionally, spiritually and intellectually stressful than many other jobs. And it pays less than most jobs that require a similar investment of time, education and responsibility.

      An independent, non-staff/non-pastor team reviews pastor requests for sabbaticals. He can’t just take off anytime he desires (and he wouldn’t want to have that kind of power).

      It sounds like you have a lot of questions about this notion of “rest.” We invite you to attend our summer sermon series on Rest, which will begin on Father’s Day.


  1. Poetry & The Preacher | Daniel Montgomery - April 30, 2012

    […] Berry. I recently shared one of his Sabbath poems with you. Berry is another Kentucky writer that you should become acquainted with if you’re not […]

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