I spent last week reflecting on some of my favorite quotes from my latest spiritual reading book, Henri Nouwen’s “Life of the Beloved,” and I’d like to continue along the same lines with this next post. In my last post, I drew from the majority of the book, focusing on the idea of being God’s Beloved. This week, I’d like to focus on a very particular section of his book.
At the beginning of “Life of the Beloved,” Nouwen spends some time reflecting on the Beloved of God in whose divine Image we have all been created: Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In the Gospel story of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, witnesses hear a voice coming from heaven that exclaims, “This is my Beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). We are all Beloved sons and daughters of the Lord who have been made in the Image and Likeness of God Himself. As such, we are meant to live like Christ. And how did He manifest His ‘Belovedness,’ as Nouwen calls it? By being taken, blessed, broken, and given. That’s how we are meant to love as well. Nouwen goes on to explore these four themes throughout several chapters of “Life of the Beloved,” and I’ve selected a few of my favorite quotes from this part of his book.
“The greatest spiritual battle begins- and never ends- with the reclaiming of our chosenness. Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love” (48-49).
“The limited, sometimes broken, love of those who share our humanity can often point us to the truth of who we are: precious in God’s eyes. This truth is not simply an inner truth that emerges from our center. It is also a truth that is revealed to us by the One who has chosen us” (50).
“When we keep claiming the light, we will find ourselves becoming more and more radiant” (52).
“Deep friendship is a calling forth of each other’s chosenness and a mutual affirmation of being precious in God’s eyes” (54).
“The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessing that rests on us from all eternity. It is the deepest affirmation of our true self. It is not enough to be chosen. We also need an ongoing blessing that allows us to hear in an ever-new way that we belong to a loving God who will never leave us alone, but will remind us always that we are guided by love on every step of our lives” (59).
“The real ‘work’ of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. This might sound self-indulgent, but, in practice, it is a hard discipline. I am so afraid of being cursed, of hearing that I am no good or not good enough, that I quickly give in to the temptation to start talking and to keep talking in order to control my fears. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear a voice of blessing…that demands real effort” (62). I think this is particularly pertinent to our culture, in a way that might not have been the case in times past. More often than not, we are being pushed to work harder, to play better, to be smarter, prettier, faster, etc., and until we are, we’re just not good enough. We’re not worth as much. And somehow, we just never seem to be ‘enough’ for this world. It’s no wonder that we seem to live in a perpetual state of fear in our society, since there is always the voice whispering that we aren’t worth as much if we can’t become better, prettier, faster, smarter, etc. Our worth is directly related to our ability to produce. We are objects to be used, and then disregarded when we cease to serve a purpose. And if worth is associated with what we can do and not who we are, it can be taken away, and that scares us. We will live in fear until we choose to stop listening to the lies that society feeds us, if we stop listening to that little voice that is constantly telling us that we are not good enough. In the silence, God speaks, and He tells us that we are good, that we have worth, that we are loved. But before we can hear that, we must quiet our fears and silence our hearts so that God can speak to us.
“Not claiming your blessedness will lead you quickly to the land of the cursed. There is little or no neutral territory between the land of the blessed and the land of the cursed. You have to choose where it is that you want to live, and that choice is one thing that you have to keep making from moment to moment” (66).
“Claiming your own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others” (67).
“Our brokenness is truly ours. Nobody else’s. Our brokenness is as unique as our chosenness and our blessedness. The way we are broken is as much an expression of our individuality as the way we are taken and blessed” (71).
“The deep truth is that our human suffering need not be an obstacle to the joy and peace we so desire, but can become, instead, the means to it. The great secret of the spiritual life, the life of the Beloved Sons and Daughters of God, is that everything we live, be it gladness or sadness, joy or pain, health or illness, can all be part of the journey toward the full realization of our humanity” (77).
“When we keep listening attentively to the voice calling us the Beloved, it becomes possible to live our brokenness, not as a confirmation that we are worthless, but as an opportunity to purify and deepen the blessing that rests upon us…[G]reat and heavy burdens become light and easy when they are lived in the light of the blessing. What seemed intolerable becomes a challenge. What seemed a reason for depression becomes a source of purification. What seemed punishment becomes a gentle pruning. What seemed rejection becomes a way to a deeper communion” (79).
“Our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to others” (85).
“True joy, happiness, and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life for others” (87).
“As the Beloved ones, our greatest fulfillment lies in becoming bread for the world” (89).
As the Body of Christ, is it any surprise that we too should be taken, blessed, broken, and given to the world? Having been made in the Image of the Beloved Son of God, is it any surprise that like Him, we should become bread for the world? As I’ve mentioned many times in the past, the world is starving for Christ. It is empty, longing to be filled. It knows well the feeling of hunger, but it does not know where to go for food. Jesus Christ is the Bread of Life who has come into the world so that the world might have life. We were dead, but Christ can give eternal life, if we would just accept it from Him. He has offered Himself, the blessed Son of God, to be broken and given to the world for food. But to be filled, we must follow Him. We must do as He did. We too must be taken, blessed, broken, and given if we are to have life within us. Do you accept your place as a chosen child of God? Do you accept God’s blessing in your life? Do you accept your brokenness as something that draws you closer to Christ? And finally, are you ready to give yourself? As a closing thought, meditate on this: God has called us all to give ourselves, but we cannot give what we do not have. In order to give ourselves, we must have something to offer. What do you have to offer the world?
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!