I am a voracious reader. It is, perhaps, one of my vices.
After the group from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ames left, I found myself tired and fighting a cold. Taking some time to relax and recuperate I picked up William Powers’ Blue Clay People: Seasons on Africa’s Fragile Edge. (Mitch, one of the folks who came down, had picked it up from my shelf and intently read it.) It’s a sort of memoir and commentary on his work for several years in Liberia with Catholic Relief Services. I devoured it in two days. Powers portrays the people he encountered with both sensitivity and a critical eye. He is especially critical of the foreign NGO culture, even criticizing some of his own efforts.
Powers’ uses a quote from Wendell Berry at the front of his book. It deserves quoting:
We have lived by the assumption that what was good for us would be good for the world. We have been wrong, We must change our lives so that it will be possible to live by the contrary assumption that what is good for the world will be good for us. And that requires that we make the effort to know the world and to learn what is good for it. We must learn to cooperate in its processes, and to yield to its limits. But even more important, we must learn to acknowledge that the creation is full of mystery; we will never clearly understand it. We must abandon arrogance and stand in awe. We must recover the sense of the majesty of the creation, and the ability to be worshipful in its presence. For it is only on the condition of humility and reverence before the world that our species will be able to remain in it.Wendell Berry, Recollected Essays
I will try to keep Powers’ book here on a shelf for people who come for extended visits. As I finished it, I thought of another moving book, Tracy Kidder’s Mountains Beyond Mountains: The Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, a Man Who Would Cure the World, which tells the story of Paul Farmer, a doctor who has worked in Haiti, Perú, Russia, and Cambridge, Massachusetts – especially on tuberculosis and AIDS. I’ll have to get a copy to keep here since these would be good to lend to people.