“Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make.” ~Henri Nouwen
When I saw Henri Nouwen’s, Life of the Beloved, on Renovaré’s bookclub list, I immediately bought and downloaded the Audible version of it even before signing up for the bookclub. Here was a great teacher putting into words the very idea I was exploring with Jedidiah’s Journey. I was eager to learn from his insights and experience, and to share those with a community of fellow seekers.
Nouwen wrote Life of the Beloved for a secular friend who asked him to write something about the spiritual life that he and his friends could understand, to give them a vision for something greater than the repetitiveness of their daily lives. Life of the Beloved was Nouwen’s answer to that request, written as a letter to “a dear friend whom I came to know and love as a fellow-traveler searching for life, light, and truth.”
In light of the questions I was asking, and the experiences I was having walking the spiritual path with pilgrims both inside and outside of prison, I resonated deeply with Nouwen’s heartfelt words to his friend. He wrote,
“Our many conversations led me to the inner conviction that the words ‘You are my Beloved’ reveal the most intimate truth about all human beings, whether they belong to any particular tradition or not.”
Recognizing this fundamental truth helped me relate with each inmate who came into my office from the same center of truth that we were both equally loved. But like those men who shared their lives with me, I had come to learn that being loved does not automatically change me.
God’s love doesn’t make decisions for me.
And it is not enough to say that God’s love sets me free to choose the right because if I am being held accountable for the decisions I make, then I am already free to choose the right. Cognitive behavioral therapy tells us that our core beliefs drive our decision making and thus our actions. So why isn’t it enough to know and believe that we are loved by God?
What is it that keeps us trapped in sin when we already know the truth of our Belovedness?
Henri Nouwen writes,
“When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unloveable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection….Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.”
It’s so easy to listen to that voice of self-rejection every time we are hurt, betrayed, or come up short. But that voice doesn’t stop at telling us how worthless our efforts are, it points the finger at who we are. It rejects us and accuses us there, in that inner place we hide away from others, sure that if they could see the truth about us, all the love would vanish away.
That’s why it’s so easy to be lured away from the truth of our Belovedness. That moment we believe we lack something is all it takes to convince us to grasp at anything to fill in that gap, to cover up that wound.
Every time we reject the truth of who we are we try to cover up with something the world offers us, or tells us we need to be. Like plates of armor we strap these lies to ourselves thinking that they make us worthy and safe, but in reality they only weigh us down and imprison us. And the wounds that we cover over are never treated, they only fester and rot.
Maybe you’re like me, and you’ve known the truth of your Belovedness for a long time, but you keep circling around it waiting for something or someone to convince you of it, to declare you Beloved. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if I’m actually hearing that still small voice or if I’m just whispering in my own head, trying to block out all the other voices demanding that I prove myself.
Henri Nouwen speaks directly to me when he writes to his friend,
“Don’t you often hope, ‘May this book, idea, course, trip, job, country, or relationship fulfill my deepest desire.’ But as long as you are waiting for that mysterious moment you will 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 burn-out. This is the way to spiritual death.”
A friend once called it “feeding the beast.”
Nouwen’s conclusion is that “being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.” All the rest is just a pack of lies that serves only to separate us from one another.
This is why becoming the Beloved is not about building ourselves up into something desirable or worthy, but about unbecoming everything false we have pretended to be.
This spiritual journey is not a great escape, but rather a journey home. It’s about coming back to the center of who we are as individuals and as a community. On the Camino, I sought the end of the world, but on this pilgrimage, I seek the beginning of myself.
Maybe that’s why Jesus says we have to be born anew to see the Kingdom of God. And maybe that’s why, with his final words before going to the cross, Jesus invites his disciples to simply abide in love. After three years of intense discipleship, Jesus summarizes all of his teachings into one commandment, “Love one another as I have loved you. Here, let me show you how.
“Let me show you that you do not have to fear being vulnerable to one another, even to the point of betrayal and death. Because love is the truth of your essence, and because I am the Resurrection and Life. So abide in Me. Center yourself here, in my divine love, and grow out from my love like the branch of a vine, and let my love bear fruit in you. For we are one, and death will not have the final word.”
This truth about our Belovedness is the beginning, the center point from which our journey will spiral outward. Are you in?
To the end, to the truth!