The Question

Though more of us than ever before live a life of luxury and ease, fewer of us can claim that our lives our permeated with peace and joy. The frantic, stressful striving going on all around us indicates that we are profoundly lost. We seem unable to ask with any seriousness or depth the question of what all our striving is ultimately for.

Norman Wirzba, from the introduction to The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.

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11 comments on “The Question

  1. DM says:

    I’ve said to myself repeatedly ” peace and quiet” are under rated. (not in my life,but in the culture at large) This echo’s one of my favorite verses from the Psalms..”My heart is not lifted up, I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me..but I have quieted my soul…like child at it’s mothers breast…like a child at it’s mother’s breast is my soul.” (whenever I find myself getting sucked into the craziness, that verse helps me regain my bearings. (I’m too lazy to look up the chapter and verse right now)..I just know it has helped me numerous times to calm the frantic stressful striving when it comes along. DM

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    • Bill says:

      That’s a good word DM. We live in a culture that disfavors contentment and pleasures that are simple and free. Quieting our souls can be a very difficult thing to do (in my experience at least). The wheels would come off of our false economy is we should all start finding peace and contentment. And that would be a good thing.

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  2. avwalters says:

    Though, indeed, more of us than ever live in luxury, all over the world there remain extremes of poverty. In the information age, we can see that, too. We can argue whether the wealthy are so, at the expense of the poor, but we cannot deny that, though there is enough for everyone, there is too much for some. This will only get worse as the shifting climate makes refugees of some, as though by a throw of the dice. No doubt this will disrupt some of the “peace and quiet” of the few. I certainly hope so, as luxury and ease in the face of suffering is the surest evidence of sin that I can imagine.

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    • Bill says:

      Yep, no doubt. There are those who live in luxury and ease (that would be most of us) yet nevertheless do not live in peace and joy, and there are those who are struggling just to survive, and therefore don’t have the luxury of wondering why affluence doesn’t produce contentment. Studies have proven that happiness spikes up when a person moves from being without secure food and shelter to having those things, but doesn’t change much (if at all) as the level of affluence beyond that increases. So the question is, once our basic needs are met, what is all the “frantic, stressful striving” for, if it isn’t producing peace and joy?

      We live in an amazing time. Over the past 20 years the percentage of the world’s population living in extreme poverty has fallen by more than half. In the very immediate future, extreme poverty may be a thing of the past. The next challenge–and a very formidable one–is sustainability.

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  3. bobraxton says:

    Norman Wirzba – by invitation came to the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church (Washington, DC) for Scholar in Residence. Since then, the professor who wrote “Dorothy Day for the armchair theologian” and, very soon, Bryan Stevenson “Just Mercy” writer / author.

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  4. I am not convinced that “peace and joy” have even been common, certainly not within my lifetime. People sometimes point to the 50s. But what kind of peace and joy could one have when you were taught to hide under your desk when the atom bomb fell? Or when McCarthy was foaming at the mouth. I believe that finding peace is an individual quest that has always been challenging. –Curt

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    • Bill says:

      I agree. I’ve never understood the claim that things are worse now than they were in the “good old days.” We’re privileged to be living in the best times humanity has ever known, and they’re improving at an accelerating pace. What Wirzba is saying is that despite our increasing affluence, we generally are not finding that it is bringing a sense of peace and joy. You’re a great example of someone who has seen the Matrix and opted out of it, but many continue the “stressful striving” without ever stopping to contemplate why.

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  5. Dearest Bill,
    Well, my husband and I have been admiring your fertile soil; so well suited for growing your own food. We live peacefully here in Georgia and try hard to have a garden. But growing veggies we have long given up. Being both the son and daughter of a Dutch market gardener, it is not possible with the very poor soil we have here with almost no waterholding capacity. When we still had the Campbell Soup mushroom plant, the one my husband designed, and one in Texas, we at least had access to spent compost by the truck load for improving the soil.
    Campbell sold all of their mushroom plants and the one we had here has been stripped by the competitor that bought it, to update his own plants in other states.
    But we enjoy still living in our rural settings, with a creek running through our property.
    Luxury is having a shower after sweating outdoors! That makes for a good appetite and also for a good night sleep.
    Happy Sunday to you and blessings.
    Mariette

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