Life Is A Miracle

I recently read an essay entitled Life is a Miracle by Wendell Berry, Kentucky farmer, novelist, poet and champion of responsible living. He confesses that he writes essays to see what he can find in himself to answer "the terrifying fact of the human destructiveness of good things." What he finds in himself, his experiences and beliefs, are the fruits of his cultural inheritance: agrarianism, democracy, and Christianity. Berry is a person who would feel at home in Coshocton County.

In Life is a Miracle, Berry uses his Christian belief to encourage an attitude of respect for all life. He believes "that every thing that exists is a divine gift, which places us in a position of extreme danger, solvable only by love for everything that exists, including our enemies." His point is that since life is a divine gift, one should be grateful for it and care for it. Berry calls this divine gift a miracle, proposing that since it is a miracle we don't own it, can't understand it and aren't superior to it. What, instead, should our relation to life be? Deference, humility, care and good art.

Good art? "Art" here is understood in its broadest sense--a way of making--not only works of fine art but also works of food, shelter and clothing. Good art requires not only skillful artistry but also an understanding of the culture, economy, religion, politics, etc. It is understanding place and time. Bad art implies reckless work and slipshod thinking. It's bulldozing a natural spring to build a house with a basement, putting up a neon sign in a quaint village, making a shovel out of tin, raising export crops like coffee or cocoa where people don't have enough to eat.

Good art is the fruit of people considering their local environment—the life around them--before doing their art in a competent manner. This good art is all around us. Think of a field of corn in late summer, the Coshocton Courthouse, Roscoe Village's gardens, Fender's fish hatchery. We find joy in seeing these things, just like we do when we view a Matt Clark painting or the newly erected statue at the library. Unlike these objects of fine art, artful works from responsible living require more thought on our part just to perceive them. I always told my children it was a sin of ingratitude to cross over the Tuscarawas River without looking at its changing beauty. I wanted to train their eyes to see and then appreciate the natural beauty around them. I’ve tried to do the same as we pass artful works of living: green tractors working the fields, houses with inviting front porches, a red fire truck, and those wonderful brick buildings on Main Street like the one that houses Linnet’s Flowers on the Square.

Museums like ours display these artful works of living. Consider an Apache water basket, a Paleo Indian fluted point, a 19th c. quilt or a Samurai sword. Hopefully we are filling our homes with their contemporary counterparts, objects thoughtfully and skillfully made. If life is a gift, then certainly it is our responsibility to receive it with gratitude and treat it with respect and care. Today and everyday, enjoy and do good art.

Johnson Humrickhouse Museum
300 N. Whitewoman Street
Coshocton, OH 43812
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