Jul 03 2019

Kahlil Gibran – Giving

Published by at 5:40 am under Poetry

by Kahlil Gibran

You often say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.”
The trees in your orchard say not so, nor the flocks in your pasture.
They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.
Surely he who is worthy to receive his days and his nights, is worthy of all else from you.
And he who has deserved to drink from the ocean of life deserves to fill his cup from your little stream.
And what desert greater shall there be, than that which lies in the courage and the confidence, nay the charity, of receiving?
And who are you that men should rend their bosom and unveil their pride, that you may see their wealth naked and their pride unabashed?
See first that you yourself deserve to be a giver, and an instrument of giving.
For in truth it is life that gives unto life — while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

— from The Prophet, by Kahlil Gibran

/ Image by Cristian Bernal /

This week I have been thinking about the suffering and cruelty embodied by the immigrant detention camps along the southern US border. I found myself turning to this poem by Gibran, himself an immigrant to the the US…

Whom do we help? To whom do we give? Which people do we choose to care for and consider part of our community?

It seems a reasonable response to say, “I would give, but only to the deserving.” The problem with such a reasonable approach is that reason, for all its usefulness, is stuck in the head. The questions of giving and connection are questions for the heart, not the head. And the heart knows what the head does not:

They give that they may live, for to withhold is to perish.

We don’t give to help the deserving. Everyone is deserving. And, ultimately, we don’t give to help those in need. We give to help ourselves, because giving is essential to our nature, while non-giving is a form of death.

When we work deeply with service and giving as part of our spiritual path, we begin to understand that the alleviation of want and the sharing of resources is not enough. That surface approach is usually a sign of ego’s touch, a way to crown oneself as the giver. We haven’t yet discovered what it means to be worthy to give. Seen clearly, there is no personal merit in giving. It is not about “karma points” or buying our way into heaven. Giving is our nature. Giving is who we are. It is what we do when we are true to ourselves. Giving and caring and help are the natural flow of life, and we are part of that life. When we give we have simply ceased to constrict our own spirit… and then our hearts untighten and we can witness life flowing through us all.

For in truth it is life that gives unto life — while you, who deem yourself a giver, are but a witness.

We should daily ask ourselves, “What gift can I give?”

Recommended Books: Kahlil Gibran

The Prophet The Beloved: Reflections on the Path of the Heart Broken Wings Jesus the Son of Man Kahlil Gibran: His Life & World
More Books >>

Kahlil Gibran, Kahlil Gibran poetry, Christian poetry Kahlil Gibran

Lebanon/US (1883 – 1931) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic

Kahlil Gibran, because of his name, is often assumed to have been a Muslim, but he was actually a Maronite Christian, originally from what is today Lebanon (then part of Syria and the Ottoman Empire).

His father, also named Kahlil, had drinking problems and gambling debts. This led the senior Gibran to leave his job as an assistant pharmacist, taking work instead as an enforcer for the local Ottoman administrator. He eventually ended up in jail.

This difficult situation left the family in poverty. As a result, Gibran did not receive a formal education as a young boy, but a local priest taught him to read Arabic and Syriac, as well as stories from the Bible, filling him with an early awareness of the mystical dimensions of Christianity.

When Gibran was eight, his mother moved the family, including his older half-brother and his two younger sisters, to Boston. Although shy, Gibran quickly learned English and, thanks to a scholarship, started to receive more of a formal education.

The boy became fascinated by Boston’s world of art and music, visiting galleries and performances. At age 13, his artistic gifts came to the attention of cultural circles in Boston, where he was further introduced to artistic trends.

Despite this early success, Gibran was sent back to Lebanon to complete his education, where he excelled in poetry.

He returned to the United States in 1902 in the midst of a family crisis. His mother had cancer, and his older brother and his fourteen-year-old sister had tuberculosis. His sister soon died. The brother, who had been supporting the family with a small hardware store, moved to Cuba to try to recover his health, leaving the young Gibran in the difficult position of having to take over the hardware business. A year later, his brother returned from Cuba, but later died. The same year, his mother also died.

In the aftermath of so much death, Gibran sold the family business and threw all of his energy into art and writing and perfecting his English. He also reconnected with the Boston cultural benefactors he had known as a child.

He began to write columns for an Arabic-language newspaper and later collected these writings into his first published books.

In 1909, Gibran went to Paris for two years to broaden his artistic training, and he was particularly influenced by the artistic Symbolist movement, with its open embrace of mysticism.

Returning to America, he began to publish his first Arabic prose-poetry collections through a publisher in Egypt. He became active with Arab intellectual and artistic organizations, promoting the rich culture of the Arab-speaking world, while attempting to address its many problems under Western imperial rule.

In 1911, Gibran moved to New York. There he met and was influenced Abdul Baha, the leader of the Bahai Faith movement. He also met Carl Jung and was asked to paint the famous psychologist’s portrait, at which time Gibran became intrigued by Jungian philosophy.

Gibran began to write in his adopted language of English, writing The Madman, though it would be rejected by several publishing houses until a small publisher named Alfred Knopf would take a chance on the work.

When World War I broke out, he worked to free Syria from Ottoman rule, but was frustrated by the messy realities of war and power games of international politics.

In the years following publication of his best known work, The Prophet, Gibran would gain international notoriety.

More poetry by Kahlil Gibran

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2 responses so far

2 Responses to “Kahlil Gibran – Giving”

  1. Elaon 04 Jul 2019 at 8:36 pm

    God gives gives and gives
    we get get get and forget
    God always forgives

  2. Olga T.on 09 Jul 2019 at 2:12 am

    It is so much easier to give generously than to receive graciously.

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