Reading: Living as the Beloved and Epilogue (p. 129 to 149)
God not only says: “You are my Beloved.” God also asks: “Do you love me?” and offers us countless chances to say “Yes” to our inner truth. That is the
spiritual life: the chance to say “Yes” to our inner truth. (p. 131)
In one of my favorite scripture passages, St. Paul urges us to “live in manner worthy of the call you have received.” (c.f. Ephesians 4:1) And what is that call? Throughout our Advent journey, Henri Nouwen showed us that we are called to be God’s Beloved. In these remaining days before Christmas, he offers a heartfelt meditation on living as the Beloved and tells how Fred responded to the book and how it came to be published.
Henri encourages Fred and each one of us to “claim your spiritual truth and to live in the world as someone who doesn’t belong to it.” (p. 130) Henri emphasizes, “If you really want to live in the world, you cannot look to the world itself as the source of that life. . . . the world is not the source even of its own life, let alone yours.” (p. 132) And Henri challenges me to what St. Francis of Assisi (Nouwen’s favorite saint) would call penance and today we call conversion or change, saying, “The change of which I speak is the change from living life as a painful test to prove that you deserve to be loved, to living it as an unceasing “Yes” to the truth of that Belovedness. Put simply, life is a God-given opportunity to become who we are. . . to say “Yes” to the one who calls us the Beloved.” (p. 133) This is my takeaway from our time together: At every moment of every day I have a choice. I can look to the world as the source of life and be disappointed or I can live as the Beloved and become who God created me to be. What will I choose today?
Rather than suggesting questions this week, I encourage you to reflect on the readings and your experience during our time together. To the extent you are comfortable, please share your thoughts and feelings, the ideas you are taking away from our discussion, or changes you would like to make in your life.
Here is something we don’t usually do but I hope you find it as meaningful as I did. I have a friend named Sean who is a long-time friend of L’Arche Daybreak where he came to admire Henri during the last years of his life. An avid reader of Henri’s books, Sean was discussing Henri’s life with a friend of his. He and she were reflecting on Henri’s skill as an exceptional listener and how he helped those around him to experience their own Belovedness–something that Henri had difficulty doing for himself. In a poem he wrote for his friend, Sean captured this probing snapshot of Henri and life as the Beloved. He gave me permission to share it.
I Give You a New Commandment
Encouraging them to be themselves
To speak their stories simply and truly
We eagerly take in what they have to say
And take away their unspeakable shame
These are our constant companions
These are the tools we use
To help others re-remember
Who they have always been
Although they did not know it at the time
Feeling the pain
Holding up the joy
Loving the whole thing
Skillfully practising alchemy
That comes easily to us, doesn’t it?
Telling our own stories
Finding out who we have been
Becoming visible ourselves
That’s not so easy for us
But we have to remember
We’re not so different from those whose stories we hear
Actually, I think we may have just stumbled upon
A new commandment
Love yourself as your neighbour
And if we can pull that one off
Well, that would be something
We also have an Advent and Christmas gift from the Henri Nouwen Society. At the bottom of this post is 30 minute recording that Henri made about the same time he was writing this book. I hope you enjoy hearing Henri describe what it means “To Be the Beloved” in his own voice. Some of you may have received this link in your email on Saturday too.
Looking ahead, in 2021 the Henri Nouwen Society will mark the 25th Anniversary of Henri’s untimely death at age 64 with a series of events and activities. For our Lenten book discussion (begins Ash Wednesday, February 17th) we will be reading and discussing Sabbatical Journey, Henri’s journal written during the last year of his life. I hope you will join us.
Finally, I want to thank each of you for what has been an extraordinarily rich discussion. The sharing was open, honest, insightful, inspiring, and deeply moving. Your presence and participation has made this Advent more meaningful for us all.
Wishing you and yours a Blessed and Merry Christmas. With gratitude,