Lately, I have loved reading Wendell Berry’s books and poetry. There’s something to what he’s saying about life. He’s reminding me of truths.
In this poem (which alludes to characters from Shakespeare’s King Lear), I am reminded of God’s goodness and his providential care.
(From A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997)
I think of Gloucester, blind, led through the world
To the world’s edge by the hand of a stranger
Who is his faithful son. At the cliff’s verge
He flings away his life, as of no worth,
The rue way lost, his eyes two bleeding wounds—
And finds his life again, and is led on
By the forsaken son who has become
His father, that the good may recognize
Each other, and at last go ripe to death.
We live the given life, and not the planned.
Berry’s poem ends with a simple statement, “We live the given life, and not the planned.”
But I love to plan.
It is a hard thing to hold loosely to my plans, to recognize that I am not in control. But here, Berry gently reminds me that this life is a gift. As unplanned as it may seem, this life is given to me by a sovereign God who gives good things to those he loves.
Too often, I am Gloucester, blind, unable to see my own path. My heart grumbles at those closest to me; I am ungrateful—more—I am dissatisfied, disappointed, even at times despairing.
Read the poem again. See how Gloucester “flings away his life…the rue way lost”?
This word “rue” has layers of meaning—literally, in French, it means the road or the way. In English it suggests sorrow, grief, regret, and repentance.
Chaucer once used it to describe God’s compassionate mercy on the sinner’s soul.
I love this use of “rue” embodying all at one time my failures and God’s forgiveness. It is in this path we walk daily—“the rue way”—that we recognize our frailty, we know regret, and we are humbled in repentance. And it is in this way that God pours out his compassion on us. Even when we might fling it away—mercy upon mercy, gift upon gift—He protects us from ourselves and our own blindness. In his great mercy, by his creative, sustaining, compassionate grace, he preserves this thing that he has given.
The reality is that despite my blindness, I am attended by my closest friend. God is my ever-present help. He sees all things and knows all things, and while this life may at times seem to me a rocky, barren path, I can trust his strong arm, the sureness of his promises, the goodness of the life he gives and preserves.
Edgar tells Gloucester, “Thy life’s a miracle!” and so it is. This path we often rue is given to us. And it is the way to life. May we walk with our eyes open, trusting in the goodness of God and treasuring the given life.