The Singing Stream

The Singing Stream

“The Real Work”
(Wendell Berry) 

It may be that when we no longer know what to do

we have come to our real work,

and that when we no longer know which way to go

we have come to our real journey.

The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

The impeded stream is the one that sings.


Most of my  life has been spent chasing certainty, which is rather ironic given that most of my life I have also strongly identified as a person of faith. (Alanis Morissette could never.) 

I am reticent to move until I am sure I have chosen correctly, wringing my hands in times of discernment desperate to know which choice is the right one. But as another pastor reminded me last year, “discernment is only needed when we’re facing many good choices, you can’t pick a ‘wrong’ one.” 

Berry’s poem invites me to consider that the wandering and the hand-wringing are not a distraction from or a delay to my calling or purpose. Squinting in to the distance in a futile attempt to chart a course unwilling to emerge from the murky future is not a failure of vision. These moments, he insists, are our real work.

In seasons where answers are in short supply, I roll up my sleeves and set to work, trying every tactic I can imagine to get through the solution drought as quickly as possible. I throw countless things against every wall just to see what will stick. Sometimes I’m so busy chucking things at walls I don’t even pause to observe how quickly something fell, or if it bounced off the wall or sluggishly slid down to the floor. The real work is in attending to those things we would call our failures as much as we do our dreams. 

Brené Brown notes that “failure can become our most powerful path to learning if we’re willing to choose courage over comfort.” Yet often when I am trying to look ahead and make plans, and set goals, I rarely consider the wisdom a courageous look at my failures would offer. I turn my back firmly to the past and stare resolutely ahead, as if refusing to acknowledge the failures and doubts nipping at my heels and whispering in my ears will somehow make them go away. 

“Tell me what you’re for,” is the question humming beneath all the reflection on vision this week. And also? Tell me about the times when you made a misstep. Tell me about when you lost the plot.  Tell me about when the idea was SO GOOD, but the impact was…not. 

Tell me about the forks in the road that have left you stalled out.
The questions that baffle your mind, and you don’t know what you’re for in that regard. 

Together, all those things that block and impede us become the babbling and singing of a stream. And maybe, we even begin to move through those boulders and impediments together, the rough edges might even become smooth.


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