Early in his book, “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World”(New York, A Crossroad Book: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992, pp. 156, $17.95), Father Henri J.M. Nouwen emphasizes that we should believe as deeply as we can that we are beloved by God. I hope that all readers of this weekly column believe that they are the Beloved of God, but how deeply do they believe it? How deeply do I believe it? Nouwen writes the following:
“All I want to say to you is, ‘You are the Beloved,’ and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being — ‘You are the Beloved.’
“The greatest gift my friendship can give to you is the gift of your Belovedness. I can give that gift only insofar as I have claimed it for myself. Isn’t that what friendship is all about: giving to each other the gift of our Belovedness?” (p. 30)
My guess is that regular readers of this column have heard that they are loved by God many times during their life. But do the words “reverberate” in their being? Do they “reverberate” in my being? This is what Nouwen is determined to accomplish in those who read his book. The words did “reverberate” in me as I read Nouwen’s words, as I am hoping they always will. I think “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World” is one of the best spiritual books I have ever read. After reading it, I sent copies to some of my friends. One I sent to the priest who has been advising me for the past 50 years. I cannot remember when he was so excited about a book.
Even if every reader of this weekly column knows that he or she is loved by God, there are levels of knowing and levels of believing. For several years I have been centering my efforts to live the Christian life around the profound truth that I am the beloved of God. I have been hoping that focusing on this truth will enable the Holy Spirit to strengthen the love relationship I have with God. At the center of my efforts has been an effort to believe as deeply as I can that God loves me unconditionally, that this love is a gift from God. I don’t have to earn this love or merit this love. That we are the beloved of God is a gift, freely bestowed on us by God. There is no sin that we can commit that will cause God to stop loving us. There are absolutely no conditions that God places on God’s love of us.
Because for several years I have been trying to center my efforts to live a Christian life on the profound truth that God loves me with an infinite love, as I was reading Nouwen’s book I felt as though I was receiving a special gift.
Why did I decide to read this book rather than some other book? The book has had such an impact on me that I have to believe that the Holy Spirit somehow moved me to choose Nouwen’s book. I believe the book was a gift from God.
Describing God’s love of us, Nouwen writes the following:
“We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That’s the truth of our lives. That’s the truth I want you to claim for yourself. … ‘You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have molded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb. … I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step.’ … Every time you listen with attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert. Once you have touched wet ground, you want to dig deeper” (pp. 36-37).
In my life I have read a number of books that literally changed my life. Perhaps some day I will search my memory and try to list some of them. Whatever books make the list, I know that “Life of the Beloved” will be near the top. I plan to remember Father Nouwen on Sunday when I celebrate the Eucharist. It is the best way I can say “Thank you.”
Father Lauder is a philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica. He presents two 15-minute talks from his lecture series on the Catholic Novel, 10:30 a.m. Monday through Friday on NET-TV.