Friday, February 17, 2012

"We Try To Lose Ourselves"

                 Amish ploughing
We live by mercy if we live.
To that we have no fit reply
But working well and giving thanks,
Loving God, loving one another,
To keep Creation's neighborhood.

.... my friend David Kline told me,
"It falls strangely on Amish ears,

This talk of how you find yourself.
We Amish, after all, don't try
To find ourselves. We try to lose
Ourselves"--and thus are lost within
The found world of sunlight and rain
Where fields are green and then are ripe,
And the people eat together by
The charity of God, who is kind
Even to those who give no thanks.
The above is a part of one of  Wendell Berry’s poems, “Amish Economy,” published in his 1995 collection “The Timbered Choir” and included in the introduction to Amish farmer David Kline’s book, “Letters from Larksong.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Amish/Anabaptist focus on choosing to lose one’s life, to give it away, as taught by Jesus, rather than spending all of our energies trying to preserve as much of it as we can. The Amish seek to live a life of “Gelassenheit,” a German word describing a spirit of yieldedness that results in investing ones life in humble service to others rather than engaging in a lifetime pursuit of domination and accumulation. They would be the first to acknowledge their humanity, though, and that they are far from perfect.

My Amish parents, known throughout our rural community as “Aunt Mary” and "Uncle Ben," were good examples of a well spent life. It wasn’t uncommon for my mother to go help a sick neighbor, a new mother or a needy friend at a moment’s notice, or for them to provide hospitality around our dining room table for all kinds of guests, even from our meager means. And my father, generous to a fault, was faithful in helping his neighbors and in tithing his modest farm income even when times were hard for our family.

Maybe life really is meant to be a gift to be given away. In the end, we have to lose it all anyway, whether we choose to or not. So why not be intentional about it, experience joy in giving away our gifts and assets to make the world a happier and better place? And maybe just die penniless and happy?   
But now, in summer dusk, a man
Whose hair and beard curl like spring ferns
Sits under the yard trees, at rest,
His smallest daughter on his lap.
This is because he rose at dawn,
Cared for his own, helped his neighbors,
Worked much, spent little, kept his peace.
Wendell Berry. 1995.IV in A timbered choir: the Sabbath poems 1979-1997. New York, Counterpoint, 1992, pp. 190-191.

(photo from the not too much web page by Brian McKinlay)
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