While cleaning out my files recently, I came across a blog post by Omar Safi which had been published on the On Being website. I must have been struck by it at the time, and it struck me again when I reread it. The piece is an appreciation of the Wendell Berry poem Manifesto, the Mad Farmer Liberation Front. (A magical poem.) Safi is moved by the entire poem, but “haunted” by the line “Love someone who does not deserve it."
Well. Haunted seems like the appropriate word there, doesn't it?
Who is the one who doesn’t deserve it? That politician that I believe is doing great harm. The gazillionaires racing to space. My annoying neighbor. Me? In God’s eyes we are all loved, but sometimes, too often maybe, that seems a little hard to swallow. In this time of strife and stridency, I worry about my inability to do just that.
Jesus has some strong words about the matter. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them.” [Lk 6:32] Yikes. This teaching removes reciprocity from the equation. We are not meant to love in order to get love. Or to be admired, or to make ourselves feel worthy or someone else feel guilty or to establish ourselves as good.
Safi suggests that “it is the act of loving” that matters. And I suggest that it is the expectation of reciprocity that gets in the way, both for the person who strives to prove their worth by acts of “loving” service and burns out and for the one caught in scarcity and unwilling to share without a guarantee of return.
The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius culminate in the contemplation of God’s love in which we acknowledge that everything we are and do and have is gift and reflect on the limitless nature of God’s love. There is no one among us who deserves that love, it is gift. Perhaps in acknowledging that daily, if not hourly, as we fail and try again, we might be able to follow the poet’s instruction to love someone who does not deserve it.
Holly Rockwell is a Spiritual Director at Estuary Soul Care and an avid naturalist.