Recently I read a beautiful poem from Wendell Berry, the amazing mystic, environmentalist, wise soul, farmer. What a joy to learn from gentle giants who point us to the Spirit, even though they come from a spiritual tradition that one has not been born into. Here is the poem as a whole:
Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millenium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.
So many little gems here, from the “go with your love to the fields”, to “faith in the two inches of humus.” But it was ultimately this line that has stayed with me:
Love someone who does not deserve it.
I’ve been repeating the words slowly to myself, as if to let their full force wash over my hardened heart.
who doesn’t’ deserve it.
This haunts me. This meditation on who deserves love, and by implication, who does not.
I wonder about those whom I love, those whom I have loved, those whom I have failed to love as they deserve to be loved, and whether I am myself undeserving. There is something lovely and beautiful here. And if misunderstood, something so broken and shattering.
How often I see so many who attempt, the many more who are, in some profound way, closed to love. It’s not that they are unlovable, just that they are unloved.
I want to believe that none of us are unlovable, though I see so many who are unloving, and in many ways unloved. I swear that more than once I have seen far too many, so many of the most tender hearts, cast pearls before swine, trying to love those who are not open to receiving that love.
And how often looking back over my own life, I see that I tried so hard to love those who are unloving, because I wanted to believe that if they would but accept my love, then I had worth. How often I have tried to prove my own worthiness by loving beyond measure.
But I still linger on this part: “Who doesn’t deserve it.”
Wendell Berry’s point seems to be in the realm of doing something spontaneous, detached from linear intentionality and expectation of reciprocity. Sa‘di, the 13th-century Persian sage, had something similar to offer:
You are more than this beastly form.
Humanity is chivalry and grace.
It’s no great skill
To gain the whole world.
If you can
Sa‘di, like Berry, seems far less concerned about the choice of whom to love than the mere act of loving. He doesn’t say: “Love this person, but not that person.” No, for Sa‘di, it’s simply “love someone.” It is the very process of loving that propels us beyond the boundary of the ego. It’s the very fire of love that burns and purifies.
What mystery is this: the more we give of love, the more we are given. That much I have known to be true in the sacred realm, in the ethereal realm of the spirit. And yet somewhere in the earthly realm, here and now, I also know that so many give and give without being replenished, and run out.
I keep coming back to deserving and undeserving. We are all worthy, deserving. And all of us are so utterly unworthy of love. I do wonder whether it is not the case that we become worthy, by loving. In giving, we receive.
Perhaps it is each of us who are undeserving of love, and each of us who become worthy through love. We, each and every undeserving souls, deserve to love, deserve to be loved.