In the global economy of love

Although I do not have banks of data or spreadsheets at hand, it seems to me that in the global economy of love, demand exceeds supply.

We are lovers by nature, but need priming. To feel ourselves as lovable lovers is to be alive. But then there’s this: believing we’re unworthy of love, we warp and contort and grasp at love. We preen, pose and posture, finally reject, resent and envy those who we believe are succeeding in love.

It’s a daily shot of love we need. Because like Pablo Neruda says, "Love is short and forgetting is long." An explosion of love lasts for a season, but without a regular ration of love we drift toward a desolation of soul—the final form of poverty. Without a love subject, even one who is ordinary and flawed, we derail and die.

Because at the centre—at the “soft animal of our bodies”—is an ember of desire that burns to make love happen. It brings me to you, and "thou to I" in the perennial longing to be each other’s joy. It holds us to the green blue surface of this earth, gives us a place "in the family of things," makes us good, makes us do good.

Calvin says our centre is depravity. Says we are fatally fallen and can only do good through a supernatural endowment of faith. Catholics say we are fallen—but created good, and just need to participate, in faith, with our inherent goodness. Buddhists and Baha’i and most humanists say we are good at the core, but forgetful.

All I know is that not many of us are saints. But most of us on many occasions, because of encountered love, and because we are lovers, can be saintly.

But then we do not need to be saints. All we need is a surplus of love over resentment. Consider a world where in the economy of love, supply exceeds demand. Is it not attainable?

WILD GEESE by Mary Oliver
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
call to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting –
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.


  1. “The soft animal side…” Don’t know about this. Occasionally as a young man I told young ladies I loved them. What I really meant, back then, was, “I love me and you make me feel good.” I said it once too often though, and one of those said it back to me, and I ended up marrying her. (But that’s worked out quite okay.) I think that Calvin and the Catholics and even the humanists have something – we’re lovers by nature but we need Priming. Perhaps that’s the best understanding of the term “Prime Mover.” Like Bruce Cockburn said, “There’s a great big love coming out of the sky.” Thanks again for thoughtful provocations – or provocative thoughtfulness.

  2. Steven, thank you for a Mary Oliver poem and Pablo Neruda quote. They are two of my favourites. Actually, there is a growing body of evidence about love or its counterpart happiness. I just completed a doctoral level course on personal ethics and the professor wove the happiness theme throughout with many references to Aristotle and eudaimonia. To live the good life and flourish, we need others and that is what is new science of happiness is telling us and it is confirming those long held traditions you reference above.

    Take care,


  3. Have we forgotten the true meaning of love? I don’t think so, so but perhaps too many have confused love with something else or their lives are filled with ill-conceived pursuits of happiness that lead to dead-ends, emptiness, and stress. “We are lovers by nature, but need priming.” But we should also be lovers of nature and all of the beautiful creations of God (not man). Perhaps it is the growing disconnect from nature – at least in industrialized nations – that makes so many numb, callous, and generally unhappy with their lives.

    I, the one who vowed she would never have children, now have two teenage sons, and I cannot even begin to describe the depth of my attachment to them, a type of love I had never known before. It is different than my love of my spouse, of other family members, of knowledge, of good books, of the Great Lakes. But when I am near things that I love, I do feel a sense of calm and happiness — a sense that there certainly is a shortage of in my life (as I end up taking on too many tasks and get too busy to be by the thinks that I truly love).

    Stephen, thanks for this reflection and for posting one of my favorite poems. You brought a smile to my day.

  4. Thanks Ivon. Your course sounds interesting. I had to look up the word eudaimonia…thanks for adding to my vocabulary. I suspect the new science and the new science of happiness is confirming what the mystics have long known, that life can only be lived inter-dependently.

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