"The Life of the Beloved" by Henri Nouwen remains one of the most influential books of my life. I read it at a time when I was solidifying some important identity questions in my heart. I thought it was time to reread it repost some of the pearls from this book again. Enjoy and receive! Read it slow and take it in. I will tweet from this book over the next week.
When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. Sure, popularity and power can present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection.
Maybe you think you are more tempted by arrogance than by self-rejection. But isn't arrogance, actually, the other side of self-rejection? Isn't arrogance putting yourself on a pedestal to avoid being seen as you see yourself? Isn't arrogance just another way of dealing with the feelings of worthlessness? Beneath our arrogance their lives much self-doubt, just as there is a great amount of pride even in our self-rejection. Whether I am inflated or deflated, I lose touch with the truth and distort my vision of reality.
Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the beloved.
That soft, gentle voice that calls me the Beloved has come to me in countless ways. My parents, friends, teachers, students, and the many strangers who crossed my path have all sounded that voice in different tones. I have been cared for by many people with much tenderness and gentleness. I have been taught and instructed with much patience and perseverance. I have been encouraged to keep going when I was ready to give up and was stimulated to try again when I failed. I have been rewarded and praised for success… But, somehow, all of these signs of love were not sufficient to convince me that I was the beloved. Beneath all my seemingly strong self-confidence there remained the question: if all those who shower me with so much attention could see and know me and my innermost self, would they still love me? That agonizing question, rooted in my inner shadow, kept persecuting me and made me run away from the very place where the quiet voice calling me the Beloved could be heard. I think you understand what I am talking about. Are you, like me, hoping that some person, thing, or event will come along to give you that final feeling of inner well-being you desire? Don't you often hope: maybe this book, idea, course, trip, job, country, or relationship will fulfill my deepest desire. But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you'll go on running helter-skelter, always anxious and restless, always lustful and angry, never fully satisfied. You know that this is the compulsiveness that keeps us going and busy, but at the same time makes us wonder whether we are getting anywhere in the long run. This is the way to spiritual exhaustion and burnout. This is the way to spiritual death!
We don't have to kill ourselves. We are the beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children, and friends loved or wounded us. That's the truth of our lives!
When the deep reality that we are the beloved of Jesus sinks fully into our hearts, what follows is that it has to become visible and tangible in the way to eat and drink, talk and love, play and work. When the deepest currents of our life no longer have any influence on the waves at the surface, then our vitality will eventually ebb, and we will end up lifeless and bored even when we are busy.
There are four primary words that I have used to identify the movements of the spirit in our lives. Those words are taken, blessed, broken and given. These words summarize my life as a priest because each day, when I come together around the table with members of my community, I take bread, bless it, break it, and give it. These words also summarize my life as a Christian because, as a Christian, I'm called to become bread for the world: bread that is taken, blessed, broken, and given. Most importantly however, they summarize my life as a human being because of every moment of my life somewhere, somehow the taking, the blessing, the breaking, and the giving are happening. Only gradually has their meaning become known to me, and I feel that I won't ever know their full potential. They are the most personal as well as the most universal words. Express the most spiritual as well as the most secular truth. They speak about the most divine as well as the most human behavior. They reach high as well as low, embrace God as well as people. This is simply to express the complexity of life and embrace it's ever unfolding mystery. They are the keys to understanding not only the lives of the great prophets of Israel and the life of Jesus of Nazareth, but also our own lives. I have chosen them not only because they are so deeply engraved in my being but also because, through them, I have become in touch with the ways of becoming the beloved.
We are taken… Chosen. But, often I have tried to show or prove that I was just me and that I have no desire to be put on a pedestal were treated as a special person. When you are treated as the chosen one, you are as liable to be persecuted as admired.
Here's a great spiritual mystery: to be chosen does not mean that others are rejected. It is very hard to conceive of this in a competitive world such as ours. All my memories of being chosen are linked to memories of others not being chosen. To be chosen as the beloved of God is something radically different. Instead of excluding others, it includes others. Instead of rejecting others as less valuable, it accepts others in their own uniqueness. It is not a competitive, but a compassionate choice. Our minds have great difficulty in coming to grips with reality. Maybe our minds will never understand it. Perhaps it is only our hearts that can accomplish this.
As long as we allow our parents, siblings, teachers, friends, and lovers to determine whether we are chosen or not, we are caught in the net of the suffocating world that accepts or rejects us according to its own agenda of effectiveness and control.
The great spiritual battle begins-and never ends-with the reclaiming of our chosenness.
When we get in touch with our own chosen status, we are then able to truly see how others are chosen and to celebrate and draw their gifts as well… Leading to indescribably beautiful friendship.
Your life and my life are, each of them, one of a kind. No one has ever lived your life or my life before, and no one will ever live them again. Our lives are unique stones in the mosaic of human existence - priceless and irreplaceable.
We all need and value blessing. Literally means speaking well or saying good things of someone. We all need some of that. We often talk about the need for affirmation. Without affirmation, it is hard to live well. To give someone a blessing is the most significant affirmation. It is more than words of appreciation, it is more than pointing out someone's talents or good deeds, it is more than putting someone in the light. To give a blessing is to say yes to a person's belovedness. More than that: to give a blessing creates the reality of which it speaks.
One day we feel great, the next we feel miserable. One day we are full of new ideas, the next everything looks bleak and dull. One day we think we can take on the whole world, but the next even a little request seems too much for us. These mood swings show that we no longer hear the blessing that was heard by Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel, and Jesus of Nazareth and that we, too, are to hear. When we are thrown up and down by the little waves on the surface of our existence, we become easy victims of our manipulative world, but, when we continue to hear the deep gentle voice that blesses us, we can walk through life with a stable sense of well-being and true belonging.
We practically work out and claim our blessedness through prayer and presence.
I have read and written much of prayer, but when I go to a quiet place to pray, I realize, although I have a tendency to say many things to God, 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'm so afraid of being cursed, 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. This focus is very hard work. It is not easy to enter into the silence and reach beyond the many demanding voices of our world and to discover that there is a small intimate voice saying "you are my beloved child and on you my favorite rests." It's not to say that this will ever be a voice you will hear with bodily ears. I am not speaking about a hallucinating voice, but a voice that can be heard by the ear of faith, the ear of the inner heart.
Many people get very distracted in prayer. But if you will spend 30 minutes per day listening to the voice of love, you will gradually discover that something is happening of which you were not even aware.
We must also be present in order to receive blessings. They are all around us! But we have to actively choose to "waste" our time to receive them. Are we too busy on our way to important things to receive the blessings that Jesus is built-in for us each day?
Once we accept fully that we are chosen and that we are blessed, we are now ready to embrace ours and others brokenness.
The leaders and prophets of Israel, who were clearly chosen and blessed, all lived very broken lives. And we, beloved sons and daughters of God, cannot escape our brokenness either.
Our brokenness is always lived and experienced in a highly personal, and unique way. I am deeply convinced that each human being suffers in a way that no other human being suffers. Sure, we can make comparisons, we can talk about more or less suffering, but in the final analysis, your pain and my pain are so deeply personal that comparing them can scarcely bring any comfort or consolation.
Our brokenness is truly ours. And truly unique. Just as we have to claim our unique chosenness and unique blessedness, we have to do the same of our unique brokenness. Physical suffering pales in the face of a broken heart. It's the brokenness of heart we are talking about and that most impacts the earth.
The first step to healing is not a step away from the pain, but a step toward it.
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.
As strange as it seems, we must embrace our brokenness and step into it… For we are not alone.
The great spiritual call of the beloved children of God is to pull their brokenness away from the shadow of the curse and put it under the light of the blessing. We must allow the blessing to touch us in our brokenness. Then our brokenness will gradually come to be seen as an opening toward the full acceptance of ourselves as the beloved.
I never realized that broken glass could shine so brightly.
Our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to others.
It is sad to see that, in our highly competitive and greedy world, we have lost touch with the joy of giving. True joy, happiness, and inner peace come from the giving of ourselves to others. A happy life is a life lived for others.
There is a mysterious link between our brokenness and our ability to give to each other. The times of our lives where we feel like we have the least to offer are often the times that make us able to give more instead of less. Our brokenness opens us to a deeper way of sharing our lives and offering each other hope.
Just as bread needs to be broken in order to be given, so, too, do our lives!
Think of how we share meals together. If there is conflict, the meal is torture. But where there is beautiful relationship the meal is a life-giving honor.
Don't you think that our desire to eat together is an expression of our even deeper desire to be food for one another? Don't we sometimes say: "that was a very nurturing conversation. That was a refreshing time"?
1. Giving yourself in life...
The real question is not "what can we offer each other" but "who can we be for each other"?
There is a big difference between talents and gifts. We have a few talents, but many gifts. Talents focus on what you can do while gifts focus on who you are. The true gifts that are in us often remain buried beneath our talents.
2. Giving yourself in death…
For those who know they are chosen, blessed and broken to be given, dying is a way of becoming pure gift.
Yes, there is such a thing as a good death. We ourselves are responsible for the way we die. We have to choose between clinging to life in such a way that death becomes nothing but a failure, or letting go of life and freedom so that we can be given to others as a source of hope.
Our years on this earth are like a little seed planted in a very rich soil. For this seed to bear fruit, it must die. We often see or feel only the dying but the harvest the abundant even when we ourselves are not the harvesters.
The world is evil only the when you become enslaved to it. The great struggle facing us is not to leave the world, to reject our ambitions and aspirations, or to despise money and success, but to claim your spiritual truth and to live in the world as someone who does not belong to it.
The world may be a source of survival, but it will never be a source of life. The world and its strategies may help you survive for a long time, but they cannot help you live, because the world is not the source even of its own life, let alone yours.
We must live the life of the BELOVED!