Tuesday, 11 January 2011
The Life of the Beloved
Henri Nouwen, a famous Roman Catholic writer and thinker, talks about ‘the life of the beloved’. I like that description. That’s what on offer to us. But what does it mean? How do we do this? Nouwen suggests that he wants to consider this theme by exploring four words, words that come from the Gospels, words that are used in the story of the feeding of the five thousand, at the Last Supper, at Emmaus, and still today, often, when the community of faith comes together. The words are: took; blessed; broke; and gave. This is what Jesus did – but it is also what happened to him. He was taken, blessed by God, broken on the cross and given to the world. As these themes, or words, summarise Jesus’ life, so they should summarise our lives because, like Jesus, we are the beloved. But do they? First, we are taken. Perhaps a better word would be chosen. We are chosen by God. We often make much of our choosing God – and there is certainly every reason why we should encourage others, and ourselves, to make right choices. But, in the end, we can only make the choice because we are first chosen. Though we sometimes forget it, it is God who takes the initiative. It is God, who like the shepherd who has lost one of a hundred sheep, comes looking for us. It is God who calls. What we do is to respond. We are chosen. Why are we chosen? We are chosen because we are precious to God. That’s another word I like. It’s a word we don’t often use like this. I don’t think of myself as precious – and yet to God I am. We all have people who are precious to us. God looks on all of us in that way. Have you ever been, or seen children in that position, where teams are being picked and one is left out, or always left to last. God doesn’t deal with any of us like that. God knows the contribution we can give. God always sees our potential. The second element is being blessed. I suspect that sometimes we are not quite sure what blessing is – but we do know that it is good. The word benediction means blessing. Literally bene means good and diction means saying. To bless someone is to say good things about them. It is to recognise the goodness within them. We all need good things said about us. People need to feel blessed. Sadly too many for too much of the time don’t. But again God always recognises what’s good about us – and so we can indeed feel blessed by God. I think this is an interesting and important perspective on blessing. Sometimes we see blessing as something to be received, or else as something to give to others on God’s behalf. That’s why we often say ‘the grace’ together. In doing that, in a sense, we are attempting to offer simultaneously God’s blessing, God’s love, God’s care to each other. And that is all part of blessing. But I think there’s more to it. I think it is also a recognition of the good in the one for whom we are expressing the hope of blessing. In blessing, yes, we are saying: I hope you experience God’s love. But I think we are also saying to the one to whom blessing is directing – and to each other in the ‘saying the grace’ scenario: I know that there’s lots of good in you. But what about the third element, being broken? We don’t want to be broken, but is it not true that brokenness is part of our experience? There is nothing wrong with wanting to be not broken. It’s natural. But it’s one of those situations where, at some stage, we are going to end up getting what we don’t want. Brokenness is part of our human experience. It comes in all shapes and sizes. It is never easy, but it is certainly true that sometimes it is more difficult than others. I don’t have any answers on brokenness. I often wish I did, but I don’t – except to say that God is with us through it. We also need to recognise the reality that where there is love there is pain which actually means that, were we able to evade brokenness, there is an awful lot else that would not be part of our experience and that lack would hugely impoverish us. The natural response to brokenness is to say something like: this shouldn’t be in my life. Let me get away from it. And, incidentally, I don’t blame you of that is your response – though, perhaps more importantly, neither does God. But the challenge is that we should dare to embrace our brokenness, even to befriend it, certainly to accept it. The challenge is to say: yes, I’m hurting. I’m wounded. It’s painful. But it’s part of my reality. It’s part of me. Now don’t worry if you find that difficult, Most of us will but, hopefully, God will help to, at least, take just a step down that road. That takes us to the fourth element of our description, that of giving and being given. It is always good for us to consider the challenge of what we can and should give. I mentioned in passing, as one of the sources for these four descriptions that we have briefly consider, that fascinating and challenging story of the feeding of the five thousand. The story, of course, places a major focus on an unnamed little lad who was ready to give up his picnic lunch. Did he have a Mars bar or a bag of crisps in reserve? Somehow I think not. Did he expect to get back any part of his tuna rolls – because that would be our version of this lunch, would it not? I don’t think he even thought about that. He just knew that Jesus was looking for food – and he wanted to give what he had. What a good attitude! When Jesus comes looking for stuff, whether its money or goods or time or talent, whether its worship or love or adopting different priorities, what are we going to give? It’s a question we all need ro come back to, time and time again!