The Life Given

In 1991, Wendell Berry wrote this poem for his long series of poems under the title of “Sabbath”:

Loving you has taught me the infinite
longing of the self to be given away
and the great difficulty of that entire
giving, for in love to give is to receive
and then there is yet more to give;
and others have been born of our giving
to whom the self, greatened by gifts,
must be given, and by that giving
be increased, until, self-burdened,
the self, staggering upward in years,
in fear, hope, love, and sorrow,
imagines, rising like a moon,
a pale moon risen in daylight
over the dark woods, the Self
whose gift we and all others are,
the self that is by definition given.[1]

What is so striking about this poem is the way that Berry celebrates so vividly, with such complexity, not only that our lives are given to us but also that they are fulfilled in giving ourselves to others. He echoes so clearly what we know about the heart of the gospel – Jesus given for us that we might be given for others. Conversely, the more we image the self as something in need, the more hollow we become (as T. S. Eliot so amply noted about modern life [2]). Ramble on further would distract us from the beauty of Berry’s words. Instead, I offer Paul’s summary of the gospel’s transformation of the self: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal 2:20).

[1] Wendell Berry, “X” in A Timbered Choir: The Sabbath Poems 1979-1997 (New York: Counterpoint, 1998), 149.

[2] T.S. Eliot, “The Hollow Men” in Collected Poems 1906-1962 (New York: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1963), 77-82.