Moments ago while I was re-reading Henri J.M. Nouwen’s book, “Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World” (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1992, $17.95, 156 pp.) a sentence seemed to leap off the page at me.
The sentence summarizes much of what Nouwen says in the book, articulates the profound truth that he wants to base his life on, and also articulates what I am trying to base my life on, with renewed hope since I have read Nouwen’s book.
The sentence is, “Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence” (p. 33).
This is the most profound truth about us. We are the Beloved because of the almost incredible love that God has bestowed on us. But how do we embrace that truth so that it can influence our daily lives? How do we prevent that truth from being merely a beautiful idea rather than the center of our efforts at trying to be followers of Christ?
While we are the beloved because of God’s love of us, there is a sense in which we have to become the Beloved by embracing that truth and incarnating it as the force that colors our entire existence. How do we do that?
In a section of his book titled “Becoming the Beloved,” Nouwen writes the following:
“As long as ‘being the Beloved’ is little more than a beautiful thought or a lofty idea that hangs above my life that keeps me from being depressed, nothing really changes. What is required is to become the Beloved in the commonplaces of my daily existence and, bit by bit, to close the gap that exists between what I know myself to be and the countless specific realities of everyday life. Becoming the Beloved is pulling the truth revealed to me from above down into the ordinariness of what I am, in fact, thinking of, talking about, and doing from hour to hour” (pp. 45-46).
I agree with what Nouwen articulates as the goal, but how is that goal reached? Nouwen shares with readers some of the ways that he tries to achieve that goal.
As I am re-reading Nouwen, I am thinking of concrete steps that I might make in my life so that I don’t allow the idea that I am God’s beloved to be merely a beautiful idea rather than a central truth that influences and animates my daily living.
For me, I know that reflecting on God’s almost incredible love for me has to become part of my daily prayers. Perhaps in my daily prayers I will include an act of thanksgiving for God’s love.
Perhaps before beginning the celebration of the Eucharist, which is itself the great act of thanksgiving, I will briefly express my gratitude for God’s love. Right now that seems like a very good idea. It might help me to be a better celebrant.
Somehow I have to include my desire to be the Beloved as part of my relationship with the students I teach at St. John’s University. Right now I am not sure how I will do that. Identifying God as an infinite lover in the prayer with which I begin every class might be a good idea.
Given the amount of reading I do, I know that somehow I have to relate my reading to the belief that I am God’s beloved. Nouwen mentions that when we try to help people, what we are doing is trying to share our experience of being loved by God with them. As I am typing this column, the idea of reading some beautiful poetry regularly might help me to appreciate the beauty of God’s love for us. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., is my favorite poet. I also love the poems of Charles Peguy. I have collections of Hopkins’ and Peguy’s poems, and this may be the time to revisit those volumes.
One of the more important ways of deepening my sense of God’s calling us into a love relationship and probably one of the most obvious ways is recalling that everyone whom I meet is the Beloved of God, those who are attractive to me and those whom I don’t find attractive, those who are easy to love and those whom I find it very difficult to love. If I can keep that in mind, that every person is sacred, every person is God’s Beloved, it should greatly influence how I deal with people. Of course how I deal with people should influence my love relationship with God.
I think the first step in trying to become God’s Beloved is reminding ourselves that God has initiated the relationship and that the Holy Spirit will accompany us as we try to allow that relationship to deepen.
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.