One of the reasons I am drawn to a consideration of moving “from one world to the next” is because I spend a good deal of time talking with students who are making their own transition from one world to the next. Just this week I was able to check in with many students who were making final and major decisions about what schools they will attend in the fall. And so, to borrow a phrase, I get to stand at a kind of “thin space” between two parts of life. Their stories are a reminder that I stand in my own space between worlds. The question, of course, is what we will carry with us.
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A couple of days ago I found myself praying with my students about the provisions of God. “Provisions” is an odd word, really. One we often have a sense of without thinking too much about. It’s also a word that Wendell Berry takes some time to unpack in “The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age.” As he speaks of what it means to consider living a “limited” life while the world around us blindly expects something limitless, Berry asserts that provision is “being attentively and responsibly present in the present.” He goes on to say that
We do not, for example, love our children because of their potential to become well-trained workers in a future economy. We love them because we are alive to them in this present moment, which is the only time when we and they are alive. This love implicates in a present need to provide: to be living a responsible life, which is to say a responsible economic life.
Which doesn’t sound very Romantic, for sure. But part of what Berry seems to argue for regularly is an attention to what is right in front of you while remaining mindful of a greater, divine horizon. Berry continues:
Provision, I think, is never more than caring properly for the good that you have, including your own life. As it relates to the future, provision does only what our oldest, longest experience tells us to do. We must continuously attend to our need for food, clothing, and shelter. We must care for the land, care for the forest, plant trees, plant gardens and crops, see that brood animals are bred, keep the house and the household intact. We must teach the children. But provision does not foresee, predict, project, or theorize about the future. Provision instructs us to renew the roof of our house, not to shelter us when we are old– we may die or the world may end before we are old– but so we may live under a sound roof now. Provision merely accepts the chances we must take with the weather, mortality, fallibility. Perhaps the wisest of the old sayings is “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch.” Provision accepts, next, the important of diversity. Perhaps the next-wisest saying is “Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket.” When the bad, worse, or worst possibility presents itself, provision only continues to take the best possible care of what we have, or of what we have left.
This is a kind of living that we do just below our level of consciousness, often. And yet it is something that maybe we aren’t learning to do all that well anymore. One reason might be because of our obsessional with disposable living. With that might be a twisted version of the second wise saying: our multiple baskets exists as ways of “hedging our bets” in ways that actually work against what is good and true.
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Why the picture of lembas from The Lord of the Rings? I guess because it is the perfect example of a provisional gift. It is something simple: bread. And it is something profound: bread that will last a long while and strengthen you well for your journey. And it requires care and economy, because once it’s gone, it’s gone.
Also, if it hadn’t been lembas, it would have been some depressing screenshot from the cinematic version of The Road, a story all about provision.
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Perhaps we would do well at this time in the Story to remember the connection between provision and Providence.
(image from the University of Leicester)