A friend of mine shared this extraordinary video on Facebook recently, about a man in India, Narayanan Krishnan, who has followed his heart into a ministry of feeding and care-taking of some of the most desperately poor and vulnerable people in his home city.
For me, watching it brought a host of emotions. It brought me back to the warmth and light of my beloved India, a country filled with paradox. It is at once ancient and modern, wealthy and poor, religious and secular. The colors and sounds and scents are heady and intense, from the swirling pinks and oranges of colorful saris to the blaze of billboards advertising modern wares with bright white Bollywood smiles on ancient buildings, from the gossipy chattering of lime green parrots in the trees to the endless metallic din of motor rickshaw traffic, from the rose and jasmine tinged incense wafting up in morning prayer to the smoky peat of cow dung patties being burned for warmth and cooking fires. As the video clip shows, it is a country of astonishing wealth and luxury such as can be found in its glittering five-star Taj hotels, and a country of despair-inducing poverty, the squalid slums outlining the cities reeking of excrement, trash and urine. It is, for many visitors, a country of chaos. It is also a country of an ancient order, the caste system.
I’m not qualified to comment on the current understandings of the caste system in India, or on prevailing systemic injustices that call for change. What I do wish to lift up is how this man’s calling spontaneously led him out of the ‘acceptable’ order of his life and society, into a life of scandalous love. I would lift up, too, something I feel even more deeply moved by in watching this video. This man exudes a tangible love for the people he cares for. He seems to exude love in an effortless, easy way that attends his every movement, touch or gesture while with them, and which makes me feel that he must be enormously rich; he is rich in love. There is economic poverty, but there is also a very real poverty of love. In his ministry, it seems this man is engaging with both from a wealth of both. Relating and feeding are not separated; body and psyche are kept together, and he offers a healing and nourishing outpouring on both.
1 John 4:19 says “We love because he first loved us.” From psychoanalytic insights, we know that our ability to give love is primarily and deeply related to the ways in which we have received love. Yet many people suffer from wounds of love; an absence of an affirmation of, and a relating to, our deepest selves. Even those of us who consider ourselves among the fortunate in the world, those of us who seek to be givers, caretakers, ministers, may struggle with loving, feeling at some deep level that we were, or are, not loved ourselves. And we blame ourselves. Yet, we all deserve the experience of receiving love, not just a belief in it, and we thrive when we have this experience with enough constancy to make it true in our bones, so true that it gives rise to its natural corollaries of deep inner freedom and the ability to love others in the same unconditional way. This grace-filled love just may break through into narcissistic systems, internal and external, bringing the life-giving good news of true relatedness where there was captivity, despair, and broken-heartedness.
Love is abundant. Yet, we often find ourselves squabbling like a flock of sparrows over the last crumb, as though we must frantically fight to get our little piece before flying off with it to some protected place and devouring it, and peering enviously at others who arrived first or more aggressively and took their share. Or perhaps we give up our share entirely, believing that it is starvation that is required of us to save others from our own hungering, rather than a joyful feasting together.
The absence of love where there should have been love is extraordinarily painful. Yet, this movie clip inspires me. It inspires me because I feel reminded, in an embodied way, that the reality of love is that it is endlessly real and utterly generous. Love is not a zero-sum commodity, as though love for oneself comes at the cost of love for others, rather than both bubbling up from the same deep well-spring and building gloriously and joyfully on each other, tumbling us into new spaces of freedom, creativity, generosity and even play.
Whatever my past experience has been or whatever corresponding beliefs about myself I arrived at, I don’t actually have to fight for my share of love, earn it by conforming to expectation, or affirm or partake in any system that overtly or covertly claims that I do. Neither does anyone else. This, to some of parts of some of us, is just as scandalous as it may have been to that man’s family when he stepped out into his call. Just as he had to break with the oppressive and unjust aspects of is social context to live out this life of love for others, so too is it given to us to break with inner systems that are oppressive and conditional and would dehumanize the needy and vulnerable, and also the hopeful and lively and loving, within ourselves and others, and to withstand the inner scandal that such grace may bring. The more love we know, and allow ourselves to know, the more we will be able to offer both food and love to a world in an agony of starvation for both.
More can be learned about his work at www.akshyatrust.org
Pia Chaudhari is a Ph.D. student in Psychology and Religion .