Jesus said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:62

No, No, There Is No Going Back (1993:I) | Wendell Berry

No, no, there is no going back.
Less and less you are
that possibility you were.
More and more you have become
those lives and deaths
that have belonged to you.
You have become a sort of grave
containing much that was
and is no more in time, beloved
then, now, and always.
And you have become a sort of tree
standing over a grave.
Now more than ever you can be
generous toward each day
that comes, young, to disappear
forever, and yet remain
unaging in the mind.
Every day you have less reason
not to give yourself away.

There is no going back, Wendell Berry tells us in this poem (which can be found in this collection). And that is true. I “went back” this past Sunday to the congregation that I served as pastor for 16 years. It had been 3 years since I left there to accept my new call. I was eager to return to help celebrate their church secretary’s 35th anniversary there. But I was also anxious, and wondered what it would be like, emotionally, to return to a place that I so dearly loved, and to people that I (still) love. 

This poem came to mind on my 2.5 hour drive back home, as I reflected on my visit there. (I blogged about this poem back in March, but I am circling back to it here.) The congregation that I went back to is not the one that I left. Their “lives and deaths” belong to me, as Berry puts it, to be sure. They have shaped me profoundly. I am the person that I am today because of them (and because of all the people with whom I have been blessed to walk this life’s journey).

But I am clearly not the same person that left there 3 years ago. A lot has changed in these 3 years, in all sorts of ways. For all of us! But that is life, isn’t it? Every experience that we have in life changes us. They shape us into who we are now. Just as Thomas Merton says in his “New Seeds of Contemplation”: 

Every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul. For just as the wind carries thousands of winged seeds so each moment brings with it germs of spiritual vitality that come to rest imperceptibly in the minds and wills of men.

Every moment, every event, and every person plants something in our soul and changes us. And sometimes, it is good to look back. It is good to think about who we are now, and how we got that way. And it was good for me to go back and thank the people that were so important to me for so many blessed years. But I didn’t really go back, because there truly is no going back. 

And, here is one of the points that Wendell Berry seems to be making in this poem: Once we embrace this truth, that there is no going back, we truly have no reason not to give ourselves away. We have no reason not to give ourselves fully and completely to this present moment, to this day, to the people that we are with right here and right now.

This is the day the Lord has made. And right here, wherever we are, is the place to which we are called. So, let us give ourselves fully and completely to this one, glorious, precious day, and to this glorious, beautiful place, wherever we are. For this is the only day, the only moment, the only place, and the only people that we will ever be with today. Let us not waste this gift! 

My former congregation the day I finished packing my office.
My current congregation, not long after I arrived.

9 thoughts on “There Is No Going Back (Take Two)

  1. Oh I didn’t read the poetry carefully enough the 1st time and wondered why I should not give myself away. But after your circling back I circled back as well and saw the unnoticed misplaced order. What a big difference just a small change of position a single word makes.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This is beautiful. I read it with tears knowing that many times I have missed the moment because I’ve wanted to go back. I read it with tears of joys understanding that this moment is truly a moment that God has made and ordained in our lives. God bless you, Rev. James Laurence. You are a wonderful spirit-filled writer.

    Liked by 1 person

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