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Wendell Berry and the Given Life

Wendell Berry and the Given Life
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Wendell Berry
and the
Given Life

by Ragan Sutterfield
192 pages Hard Cover Book

We drive to work on the stored energy of ten thousand years of sunlight. Our daily bread seems to generate miraculously from store shelves. And our communities can be connected with a billion ones and zeros over fiber optic cables. For us, the idea of being a creature can seem passé. Yet in this lonely world of mastery, in a time so dominated by human desire and design that it has been dubbed the “anthropocene,” the human age, many of us feel that we are missing some essential truth about who we are.   

The glimpses of this truth come when we lose cell reception on a long hike in the forest and our eyes are lifted to the simple marvel of trees. We feel this truth when we take up a shovel and sense the satisfying heave of dirt as we plant a modest garden. We hear this truth when we tune out the traffic and listen to the song sparrow’s melody, eavesdropping on a beauty that serves no human economy. In all this we hear a whisper of the truth that we are creatures—and we long to live in this reality. But how can we, when we have moved so far from our life source in the soil? 

For the past 50 years, Wendell Berry has been helping seekers chart a return to the practice of being creatures. Through his essays, poetry and fiction, Berry has repeatedly drawn our attention to the ways in which our lives are gifts in a whole economy of gifts.

Berry presents us with the sort of coherent vision for the lived moral and spiritual life that we need now.  His work helps us remember our givenness and embrace our life as creatures. His insights flow from a life and practices, and so it is a vision that can be practiced and lived—it is a vision that is grounded in the art of being a creature.  Wendell Berry and the Given Life  articulates his vision for the creaturely life and the Christian understandings of humility and creation that underpin it.   


“Sutterfield’s book is full of practical wisdom not just for those interested in Berry or agrarianism but for anyone interested in living a sane life. This is a compelling and transformative read.” —William T. Cavanaugh, DePaul University

“This collection of essays offers a reliable map to Berry’s thought and life, beautifully distilled into a dozen keystone convictions (no small accomplishment). Sutterfield curates a pleasing mix of Berry’s prose, poetry, and fiction to illustrate the social vision, faith, and practice of this ‘contemporary St. Benedict’—perspectives essential to our survival and flourishing as a creaturely species.” —Ched Myers, author, Watershed Discipleship: Reinhabiting Bioregional Faith and Practice

“People of faith and goodwill are seeking ways to live lives of truth, beauty, and love in a society which seems to discard or disdain such things. Sutterfield’s unpacking of Wendell Berry’s wisdom, insight, challenges, and faithfulness offers ways of doing that in these perilous times. This is an important book for the living of these days.” —J. Brent Bill, Quaker minister, author, Holy Silence: The Gift of Quaker Spirituality, and steward of Ploughshares Farm

“Goodness and beauty, lament and hope, humility and resilience, soil and skin— readers of Wendell Berry know how he celebrates treasures too many people treat as trash. Now Ragan Sutterfield has gathered a dozen central themes from Berry’s work and offers them as a call to aliveness in this wonderful and endangered world.” —Brian McClaren, author, The Great Spiritual Migration “This wide-ranging yet coherent introduction to Berry’s work offers also a view of Christian life that engages the deepest threats to our humanity and our physical world, and at the same time provides concrete guidance for the patient practice of hope.” —Ellen F. Davis, Amos Ragan Kearns Professor of Bible and Practical Theology, The Divinity School, Duke University.


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