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.
So many little gems there, 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.