My Wendell Berry journey began with reading his essays. I was enthralled with his ideas of husbandry, his distaste for computers, and his reluctance to rely on coal for energy.
But when I read Hannah Coulter last year as part of a church book group, I was less mesmerized. Although I found the book beautiful and sweet, it was also painful for me to read. It touched on some deep wounds from childhood regarding family and community.
I grew up in a log cabin on twelve acres of woods in Georgia. I was homeschooled. I was very secluded from the world. It was both hard and joyous to leave that place. It was hard because it was everything I knew and loved. It was joyous because it was freedom from what at times felt like a prison.
In Hannah Coulter, Hannah and her husband talk about the children that grew up and never returned to their family farm as if they were lost—to Hannah and her husband, to love and community, and maybe even to Christ.
I’m not sure that I can get on board with Berry’s picture of staying. Yet at the same time, I do see in my friends and at times myself, a fear of commitment, a selfish desire to “make the most out of life,” and a worldly view that cheapens community and demeans the simple life of devotion to one’s family and place.
My debut album is called In Search of the Sea, and it is all about leaving and going on an adventure. The longing for an exciting life is not hard to defend—our culture is saturated with it. “Make your life the best movie possible.” That’s what I hear from my TV and also from some of my favorite authors and speakers, many of them devout believers. But I find something missing from that view and almost sigh in relief when I read that it is not only okay but perhaps even admirable to look at life a different way—a slower way.
The song “Hey, Annaliese” is about a girl who is always leaving. She’s been running away from being known and loved. The chorus says:
there’s a place you can land here,
there’s a place you can stay,
there’s a place you can grow.
Don’t be afraid,
afraid of the shoreline,
afraid of the down time,
afraid of slow years.
In the end, I refuse to take a strong stance either way: I love adventure and travel too much to stay in one place, but I also long for deep relationships, commitment, and a physical place to call home.
When I think of loyalty, I think of Ruth in the Old Testament. She was loyal to a person instead of a place. She clung to Naomi, but left her father’s land and religion.
As a Christian, I know my first loyalty is always to Christ, and he might send me all over the known world. He might also ask me to stay in one tiny place for a very long time. Perhaps “a time to stay and a time to go” is a line that should be added to Ecclesiastes 3. Perhaps if we answered this question (to leave or to go) definitely, then we would be avoiding a real relationship with Christ and never learning to truly follow him.
So what do you think? When have you left or stayed and what came of it?
“Hey, Annaliese” Music Video:
In Search of the Sea, will be available July 21st on iTunes. Until then, you can pre-order it at: http://www.hettymusic.com.