The Gathering

When Moroni first appeared to Joseph Smith, he quoted a number of scriptures, including Malachi’s prophesy that “And he [ie the Lord] shall plant in the hearts of the children the promises made to the fathers, and the hearts of the children shall turn to their fathers.” We generally read these words as a reference to temple work, but there is much more going on in them, I believe. This morning, after playing baseball with my son, I sat watching him play on the lawn with his stuffed seal (who had been transformed into a super hero) and I read the following poem, which unknown to the author, I am sure, is about Malachi’s prophesy:

The Gathering

At my age my father
held me on his arm
like a hooded bird,
and his father held him so.
Now I grow into brotherhood
with my father as he
with his had grown,
time teaching me
his thoughts in my own.
Now he speaks in me
as when I knew him first,
as his father spoke
in him when he had come
to thirst for the life
of a young son. My son
will know me in himself
when his son sits hooded on
his arm and I have grown
to be brother to all
my fathers, memory
speaking to knowledge,
finally, in my bones.

Wendell Berry, Collected Poems: 1957-1982 (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1984), 161.

The brotherhood of fathers and sons and the gathering across generations struck me as images that Malachi, Moroni, and Joseph would have appreciated.

12 comments for “The Gathering

  1. July 7, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Read this right before helping my 17 month old son “sweep” the floor in our kitchen and then the carpeted floor in his bedroom.

    Thanks :)

  2. July 7, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    Wow, Nate. I’ve read some beautiful poetry about each generation being a link in a neverending chain, but this image of each generation growing into fellowship and turning to welcome the next, and the next, goes far beyond that. Thank you.

  3. July 7, 2007 at 12:42 pm

    I think that this poem captures the relationship that parents not only have with their children, but also the nature of being part of God’s eternal family. Thanks Nate, that is a good poem.

  4. Margaret Young
    July 7, 2007 at 12:43 pm

    What a treat to read that beautiful poem, Nate!
    A woman’s perspective:
    Last Wednesday, I went to the dialysis center to be with Dad while the machines cleaned his blood. He was asleep when I arrived, and I sat watching him. He was curled up almost in fetal position. I’m still not able to watch him on those machines without weeping, so I was glad he was asleep so I could clear the tears. Seeing him tethered to life in this way always makes me want to shout, “You all need to know who this is! This is my dad and he’s a great man!” I watched him sleep much as I have watched my babies sleep, marveling at the miracle of the human body, memorizing features, noting changes.

    When he woke up, we talked about the MTC, about my family, about social issues. We told jokes.

    Every Tuesday, my oldest son (no longer active in the Church), has scheduled “conversations” with Dad. My son has chosen Dad as a hero, and wants to know more. Dad says the time with my son is precious. There is no preaching, only expressions of love. I wonder if this is one of the things Dad would list as a core lesson of his life: Love without any attempts at remodeling.

    It would be presumptuous for me to say what his heart messages would be.

    Mine, in letter form, would be:

    Dear Children–Learn to speak other languages. Oh, Spanish and Russian are fine, but these are not the languages I’m referring to. Learn the unspoken language of someone in pain, and answer their need quietly.

    Learn to swim–not just in a pool, but in the depths of thought and faith and love. Always be willing to dive deep and to believe in the goodness of those around you.

    Learn to read–not just good books, but messages around the written texts, and implications within them. Then you won’t be deceived by silliness or horrified by conspiracy theories, and you’ll find new channels of truth bound in old covers.

    Learn godliness. Love godliness. Grow into it, believing in all possibilities.

    Stay knitted together in love–with all of your families. Remember the wonderful adventures of your childhood and forgive the little disasters. Your parents were growing as you grew, and they never meant to behave badly. Forgive anything that went wrong, so that forgiveness can meet you in the circle we all share.


  5. Kristine
    July 7, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Nate, you’re reading Wendell Berry? The apocalypse cannot be far off…

  6. Bill MacKinnon
    July 7, 2007 at 1:25 pm

    Nate, a beautiful poem. Thanks for exposing us to it. Why do you suppose Berry chose the image of falconry (“on his arm like a hooded bird’) to describe the link between father and son? The implicit (pending) violence of such a scene seems a little out of sync with the basic thought.
    Margaret, wonderful thoughts about a difficult experience that brought back the year I spent seeing off first my mother-in-law and then her daughter (my wife) while trying to explain all this to myself as well as two adolescents.

  7. Ray
    July 7, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Nate, thank you. I absolutely love the poem, and I am going to send it to my father.

    There is an old country song by Paul Overstreet called “I’m Seeing My Father in Me” that I absolutely love. After I read the poem, I couldn’t help but sing the song.

    My oldest son just turned 19. He is back home with us during his summer break from college, and it is amazing to see the growth and change in him since he left for his freshman year. He’s more mature; he grew about 3 inches – which puts him at least 4 inches above me; he is independent of us now in about every way possible – except for not having his own car; etc. My wife and I are struggling to treat him like an adult, but he has been wonderfully patient with us as we adjust to our new relationship.

    As soon as he gets home from work tonight, I am going to ask him to read the poem you posted – looking over my shoulder, probably with his hand on my arm or shoulder. How appropriate is that?

  8. Jim F.
    July 8, 2007 at 12:08 am

    Nate, thanks. Given Wendell Berry’s knowledge of the Bible, it is quite possible that he knows the connection to Malachi’s prophecy.

    I see three of my children and my grandchlldren very often, the fourth child, a little less often, unfortunately. With all of them, however, I understand more every day what Berry is talking about when he speaks of the fellowship of brotherhood into which he is growing. I like this stage of my life very much, and it makes me anticipate a very different Celestial Kingdom than I imagined when I first learned of it.

    Margaret, I think the point of the hooded falcon is that the relation between father and son was one of master and mastered rather than brother and brother. You’re right, however, that in spite of Berry’s intentions, the potential violence of that hooded falcon, the violence just over the horizon, makes the image odd. I like the poem anyway, though I am but a poetaster, so I’m not sure that my preference for it should carry much weight. Wendell Berry is one of my favorite poets.

  9. [email protected]
    July 9, 2007 at 12:53 am

    It is conceivable that the metaphor of the hooded falcon is more focused on the hood than on the nature of falconry. The falcon is perched on the arm of a being that sees and ‘knows’ the world while the falcon does not. When the falcon’s hood is removed it then sees it’s surroundings as they really are and it can take flight in this ‘world’ to do what it has been sent forth to do. I believe that a father (usually, hopefully) reaches the point of fatherhood after having learned how to successfully navigate his way through the challenges and opportunities the world affords. One of his obligations is to teach his children to do the same because as children they cannot perceives these things as he can. By the time they reach their majority they are (again, hopefully) ready to enter in to this ‘world’ and navigate their way through it based in the principles and lessons they were taght.

  10. Richard O.
    July 9, 2007 at 7:37 am

    Thanks Nate. Your post and poem touched me.

  11. July 9, 2007 at 10:34 am

    I found the falcon image in the poem odd as well. Here is my take on it: Berry is problematizing his own organic vision of generations gradually growing into one another by acknowledging that part of what fathers want to do with their sons is launch them into the world and watch them soar far above their parents. There is a paradox of connection and freedom associated with parenting that Berry captures in the contrast between the bird and the generations growing in brotherhood.

  12. July 10, 2007 at 10:27 am

    I thought about the falcon in terms of it soaring away, not just high—once the hood is removed, the falcon will leave the perch. But then I think I read this with Cat Stevens’ Father and Son in the back of my mind, esp. the son’s refrain: “Now there’s a way and I know that I have to go away. I know I have to go.”

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