Like the Sound of Many Waters — Jayber Crow Discussion (3)

As I write today, Houston is well into the long rebuilding that follows a hurricane and flooding, and Irma has raged through the Caribbean islands and through Florida, leaving a wake of destruction and death. In an odd sort of coincidence, those of us who are reading Jayber Crow according to the schedule have been following our protagonist’s progress through the flooded region that borders the Kentucky River on his journey toward home. Then, to add a third strand to these braided images, the patient husband and I have been reading in the book of Ezekiel these days, and we encountered this word picture in one of the wild-eyed prophet’s visions:

 “Afterward he brought me to the gate, the gate that faces toward the east.  And behold, the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east. His voice was like the sound of many waters; and the earth shone with His glory. (Ezekiel 43:1,2)

Calling and the Voice of God

Scripture portrays the voice of God as still and small; as fearsome and emanating from the midst of fire; as a commandment-carrying instrument which must be obeyed at all cost.  And God’s usual means of communicating to His people is through Scripture; however, God (being God) can speak to us in any way that pleases Him.

Whether it was the voice of God or the voice of his own longing for home rising up in his heart and finally being heard, one thing was certain:  the river flooded and it brought Jayber back to Port William. The River was rising on that January day in 1937 when Jayber packed up his belongings and left behind his first barbering job, the first room he’d “ever had in his own right,” along with his pursuit of making “a theoretical something of himself” through education. For him, at least at this point in life, his calling is all about leaving. It’s not until he reaches the bridge in Frankfort, Kentucky and is stopped from crossing by the policeman (and the raging flood waters) that his journey seems to turn toward something.

” . . . If that barn breaks loose and hits this bridge, she’s a goner, and you too if you’re on it.”

And then I said something that I had never thought of saying, that I didn’t even know was the truth until I remembered myself saying it. Right then I only felt all of a sudden so lonely and homesick I could barely talk. I said, “I’ve got to get to my people down the river.”

Of course, it does complicate things that none of Jayber’s “people” know he exists yet . . . but enter Burley Coulter, and suddenly Jayber is known. The un-naming that happened back at The Good Shepherd has been reversed and the calling and the blessing of life as a barber begins to unfold.

The Calling and the Being

” . . . I know I’ve been lucky. Beyond that, the question is if I have not been also blessed, as I believe I have — and, beyond that, even called. Surely I was called to be, for one thing, a barber. All my real opportunities have been to be a barber, as you’ll see, and being a barber has made other opportunities. I have had the life I have had because I kept on being a barber, you might say, in spite of my intentions to the contrary.”

I can’t resist asking this question:

What do you “keep on being” that has resulted in blessing — maybe in spite of yourself?

Another question that bubbled to the surface as I read was, “Who is this guy?”

On the one hand, he’s lived a solitary life since Aunt Cordie died. On the other hand, he risks life and limb to cross a bridge to get to his people (“as surely as if [he] had a home to be on the way to”) and then stands in the capitol building on his way out after having spent the night there, looking at all his fellow refugees and longing to “tiptoe around and just lay my hand on each one.” He seems capable of feeling more tenderness toward people he doesn’t know than people he knows. Wendell Berry has certainly crafted a character full of contradictions.

Looking Ahead

The rising of the waters, the guilty feeling that he wants to repay the $5 bill Sam Hanks gave him on the basis of a lie, and Burley Coulter’s rowboat all worked together to bring Jayber back home.  As chapter eight comes to a close we see the beginnings of Jayber’s future, and so does he, but his narrator’s voice on page 82 draws our attention to an unknown quantity that would, eventually, have a powerful influence in his life — an influence as powerful as a calling:

“But my future, as it turned out, proved to be elsewhere. I hadn’t even glimpsed it yet. I had imagined no future. Who she was who would have my heart to own I had not imagined.”

So after three stories completely ended, Jayber begins a new story in an old setting.

How has the voice of God come to you in the past?  And how are you hearing Him today?

Have you experienced any hair pin turns in your sense of calling? Does Jayber’s experience help you in thinking about vocation?

I look forward to reading your thoughts so be sure to share insights, blog posts, and stories from your own experience in the comment space below!

I’ll be here next Thursday (September 28) having read Chapters 9-11.

And just in case you missed the schedule I posted last week, here it is again:

Date…………………………………Topic of Discussion

OCTOBER 5……………………CHAPTERS 12-14
OCTOBER 12………………….CHAPTERS 15-17
OCTOBER 19………………….CHAPTERS 18-20
OCTOBER 26………………….CHAPTERS 21-23
NOVEMBER 16……………….CHAPTERS 30-32


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57 thoughts on “Like the Sound of Many Waters — Jayber Crow Discussion (3)”

  1. I am so much enjoying this book, Michele!! I love the thought-provoking sentences that give me pause to savor and turn them over in my mind. I also love the storyline and delightful characterizations the author gives. Clearly, Jayber is a great story teller because Wendell Berry is!! I posted a blog yesterday that was born out of the reflections that came from reading a passage in the book. Here’s the link to it:


    1. I’ve been longing to re-read Hannah, and at least once Jayber has mentioned Hannah’s husband in this book, and I want to tell him to say “Hi” to Hannah for me, but I guess that wouldn’t work, would it?
      It’s amazing how all these characters become real people in my mind.


  2. What do I keep on being? Well, I seem to keep on being primarily a stay-at-home-Mom even though my kids have gone on to create their own homes. I’m still here for them to be in touch with and to picture a home to come to, to send out encouragement as I can and to ooo and aaa over their accomplishments and pictures…I do get out of the house to help others in other ways but I consider being a Mom (and grandmom and a wife and homemaker) to be my primary calling, and this calling centers around being home, wherever that may end up to be geographically.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I resonated with Jayber’s thoughts on freedom and on being not quite free. I’ve posted my thoughts on Calling and what hinders it here

    And if you’ve not been reading along and would like to sample more of Jayber’s thoughts, I’ve copied my favorites here along with snippets of my own reactions to them.


    1. Thanks, Linda, for these links. I appreciated this post from the perspective of the group discussion, but am also feeling a lot of solidarity with you right now in the arena of being the grandmother who lets her little people get wet. 🙂


      1. ( : And they haven’t caught their deaths of cold–only added another layer of detail to their memories of growing up with grandparents at hand!


  4. Questions today that’ll sure make ya think, Michele. 🙂 I’m strange, in that, I don’t often think about what it is I’m supposed to be, I just follow each next right step as the Spirit leads. I don’t mean that in a self-righteous kind of a way at all. Not sure why, but for some reason, I just “keep on being” whatever feels right in each season and trust that He’s got this ship pointed someplace good. 🙂 — (Think I got my WP comment thing working…fingers crossed…)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Brenda, you are blessed indeed in having such an outlook. Sounds like faith to me! Some of us are ever so much more introspectively inclined and keeping a steady practical faith that God is leading our steps is more of a hurdle. Thx for commenting!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Yes, it worked! So good to hear from you, and I appreciate your reasoning — and your Jayber-like ability to “keep on being.” I have this in my head on an academic level, and even gave some advice to someone recently that sounded a lot like what you said, but it’s those minutes and hours and days that feel uncertain that keep me on edge when I’m not able to see the cloud or the fire leading me forward.


  5. I listened to the audiobook portion having to do with the flood between Harvey and Irma, after having spent a tense day or two watching for updates from my sister in Houston about how the water was rising over their sidewalks, then up the driveway, finally stopping in their garage, but, thankfully, not reaching the house. It was almost a little too close to home to listen to his flood experiences right then!

    It’s funny how Jayber regards these as his people when he has relatively little interaction with them and feels like an outsider even years later. He even mentions in church that he feels closer to everyone during moments of silence more than the talking and singing.

    Good catch on the contrast between being unnamed at the orphanage and coming home to find someone who knew him by name, enhancing the feeling of belonging and “home.” I didn’t make that connection – that kind of thing is one reason I love reading along with you!

    I chose a college major based on what I thought was “practical,” ended up not using my major professionally (though, after years of thinking about it, I could see God’s hand in it and how it contributed to my overall development), and have been pursuing in the last several years what I wanted to do back when I was a child – writing. Just a blog and church ladies’ newsletter, a handful of magazine and newspaper articles for now. Whether God opens a different door in that area for me, we’ll have to see – I’m praying about it. But for now I am enjoying these outlets.


    1. I wondered if any readers were dealing with the hurricanes and reading about Jayber’s predicament. That must have felt a little surreal. Jayber’s whole experience of being named and then unnamed, and named again — and really KNOWN when he returns to Port William are heart wrenching for me. And I noticed in the next section (spoiler alert) that when he comes to town, they get his name wrong at first, and he’s only Jonah for a short time before becoming Jayber, but that whole process felt very different to me than Brother Whitespade just up and pronouncing him J.
      Sounds as if you have wandered back into your calling, kind of in spite of yourself. If we give our gifts even half a chance, they do have a tendency to “out” themselves. So glad that you’re reading and writing along with us.


  6. Michelle,
    I love how you ask about Jayber, “Who is this guy?” amidst all of his contradictions. And your statement made me think, aren’t we all full of contradictions, just waiting to be untangled by our Lord? It amazes me, as it did during the study of “Till We have Faces” also, how my thoughts on what I’m reading take a fully different turn once I start writing. I knew the direction and even the quote that jumped out at me, but I certainly did not expect to end up where I did when I finally finished writing my post. I am loving to read all of the comments and posts of those reading along here! We each have another piece to bring to the table! Thank you again for being such a great Hostess! So, here are my thoughts:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing this link, Bettie. I so enjoyed the “flow” of your thoughts, and love the way your conclusions ended up surprising you. Hope you don’t mind if I share this tomorrow on FB. You’ve added so many good thoughts to the conversation.


    2. How did I miss my notes about Jayber’s homecoming in the spiritual sense being awakened as he was making his pilgrimage. I love your insight to his shepherd’s heart. I’m so thankful I popped over to read your post. There was just way too much good stuff in these chapters.

      It also occurred to me as I was mulling over the river rising and his path. The bible’s Jonah and Berry’s Jonah both had to fight their own water battle. One a raging sea, the other a raging river. And then Crow. A crow flies straight and narrow, yet Jonah Crow got lost and meandered his way around for 3 days.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. HOME! Jonah is home! He is known and even though it seemed that he lost more of his identity in Chapter 7, it just doesn’t matter now! By the time he and Burley got to Mrs Coulter, “J” is gone. Jonah has found his name and identity after many long years.

    Small town living shows up again. His friends help him with what he needs. When the barbershop is his and he is settled, he speaks four powerful words. “I felt at home.” I can almost hear a sigh of contentment. We know he really hadn’t felt at home anywhere since Aunt Cordie died. He didn’t have to go looking for business and had no need to explain how he got there. “the town took care of that.”

    I also had to think of God’s providence on Jayber’s life. God knew him and was caring for, protecting and providing for him, even when he had no one. Like Michele, I wondered of Mr. Berry’s insight–could it be coincidence? So I went to Wikipedia (of course) and found this footnote:
    “The Brian Lehrer Show”. October 17, 2013. “I’m not a Baptist in any formal way. I go to the Baptist church, where my wife plays the piano, on days of bad weather. On days of good weather, I ramble off into the woods somewhere. I am a person who takes the Gospel seriously, but I have had trouble conforming my thoughts to a denomination.”

    Jayber’s matter of fact way of dealing with whatever comes his way seems so simple, and yet life was simpler then. His life circumstances taught him that life happened and you dealt with it and moved on. And when he realized his 4th end (Christmas break and the end of his classes and learning) he moved on again shortly after, with no need to even say goodbye. He had no desire to rehash the past, and no one to rehash it with if he did. He just puts it in the proper compartment and moves to the next thing. (I wish I was more like that myself, much less heartache in accepting things the way they are and leaving them there). He leaves free. Why does the bridge brings him to the sudden realization that he’s got to get to “his people.”


    1. Don’t you just love Burley’s fatherly satisfaction in helping Jayber? He takes so much delight in giving and helping.
      And thanks for sharing that quote from Berry. It does give us insight into his writing, I think.
      And about the bridge, I guess the emergency brought out a sense of urgency in him, making him realize that it was not just the flooding river he wanted to see. I love the way his journey changes when it becomes a path toward something.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It is sooo good, but I’m bogged down right now. I’m still reading along slowly, chapter 5, and peeking here. I must confess that I’ve had trouble in the past with Berry’s fiction, but I’m not sure why? Just like I didn’t get it or something. However, I’m loving this. Wow. 🙂 Amy


    1. So glad that Jayber is doing for you what Berry’s other fiction has not. I do think it would be easy to get side tracked in Berry’s characters’ internal meanderings, but Jayber’s definitely follow a plot line. Really glad you are enjoying the experience. Don’t hurry yourself — there are some short chapters coming up and you’ll be just fine.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Oh my word, I didn’t expect to get so attached to Jayber or love this book so much. Thank you Michele! As someone said above, I admire the contradictions and thoughts on them that Berry writes into Jayber. We are all made up of contradictions. His sense and description of finally turning toward something is dear to me! I grew up in a harsh way with nothing but leaving to do- and I distinctly remember when I also recognized my first “turning toward” time. Like Jayber and your question “who is this guy/girl?” was a question asked as an exterior developed for survival was shed to expose a softer interior when a sense of “home” finally allowed. I loved these chapters!!

    As for the “keep on being” question…a writer. I’ve tried and succeeded in several other fields but somehow the way always leads back to writing. Writing fulltime for work was never what I sought, but it’s been “my thing” for more than 5 years now.

    I’d love to know what your “keep on being” is, Michele- sorry if I missed it above!


    1. I am so relieved to hear your thoughts on Jayber, Bethany, because I feel a little strange sometimes when I get so attached to characters in books that I begin speculating about motives and alternative pathways for a fictional person. Glad Jayber has hooked you as well. I think we have a lot in common in our leaving and then turning toward, and this business of writing keeps popping up in my path as well. At some point, it occurred to me that every single FT job I held post college ended up morphing in some way into a writing gig on some level, even if it was just re-writing the employee handbook for my place of work. Funny thing, and I’ll say along with Jayber: “make of it what you will . . .”

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I love his “make of it what you will” comments. And yes- I think we have that in common. And also yes- you are not the only one who gets attached to fictional characters that you speculate about them as you might nonfictional people!! That employee handbook was, I’m sure, a much better read after your rewrite!


  10. Michele, I am following Jayber’s journey through the weekly posts and I am intrigued by the story. I do look forward to reading the book once I complete my online program. His journey sounds all too familiar! God is speaking to me as well as offering me peace and comfort in these trying times. I am not sure where I am going but I do know He is leading me!


  11. I’ve been off the grid with the hurricane, and it is so good to get back to reading your blog. I love how God gives us confirmations along the way as we step out in faith toward the path He calls us to…even when the calling is to leave. How I’ve grappled with that in the past, and now on this side, to see the plan He had in the leaving simply astounds me!


  12. How have I heard God’s voice? Aside from in Scripture, as you mentioned, God has “spoken” in many ways to me. (Or revealed Himself, rather, instead of actual words or audible voice.) He’s spoken through others countless times and often this is where confirmation for the calling is found. It makes me grateful that I don’t have to go through life alone. And although I’m not reading the book, I can relate to the looking for my people even though they don’t know I exist yet. Other than obeying the Lord, people are the other drive to fulfill the calling—to keep on being.


  13. Michele, I haven’t heard of this book, but it sounds interesting. I’ve had hair pin turns in my callings. As a mom, one boy came to us with a week’s notice. God prepared our hearts and minds for the new turn in our adventure in parenting. In my writing life, there have been unexpected turns—some of which made me rejoice, others that challenged me to Dra closer to God to deal with (disappointments). I’m glad God is with us in each step of our journeys, and that He conforms us more into the image of Jesus each day.


  14. Ugh, I’m so bummed that I haven’t even had a chance to start this book yet. I still want to, but I’m growing less hopeful that it will happen. Still maybe…. Thanks for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday on!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I haven’t read the book, but I have had a change in calling. Although the change didn’t come without a painful reality and complete surrender of my desires, it’s well worth the thistles. I’ve always heard God most through His Word and by praying His Word.


  16. What a wonderful, thought-provoking post, Michele! Even though I’m not reading the book about Jayber Crow at the moment, I found this post really enriching and encouraging. God really does speak to us in so many ways. I definitely need to add this book to my reading list. Thank you so much for sharing this post with us at the Hearth and Soul Link Party. Hope this week is a good one for you!


  17. How do I “keep on being”? How have I heard the voice of God in the past and now? These are great questions, Michele … not ones I can answer in a quick comment but ones I will keep pondering as I go about these days of mine that keep on getting fuller and fuller! I had to pause for a minute and think about what you wrote in the first paragraph … what a beautiful description of God’s voice. And though I’m not reading the book, I’m really enjoying getting to know my blogger friends better as I read their comments. Who knew an online book club could be such a community builder (well, besides you I guess)? 🙂


    1. Thanks for thinking along with us, Lois. I think there are so many huge themes in Jayber that the discussion is able to be rich and quite theological — even though it’s truly just a delightful story.
      Blessings and peace to you in your full days. Thank you for taking time to read and reflect.


  18. Hello! I’ve been following your blog for a while now and finally got the bravery to go ahead and give you a shout out from Atascocita Texas! Just wanted to mention keep up the excellent work!


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