This is a reflection we used at a leadership training day. We began by underlining the importance of rest (everything begins with rest which “defrags” our system) and the reminder from Wayne Muller that “the world aches for the generosity of a well rested people”.
The image is of Jesus Christ and the Beloved Disciple (detail from 14th-century fresco of the Last Supper, Ubisi, Georgia).
Beloved is such a meaningful word – adjective, noun, verb. That’s the word I want to focus on.
The dome is a feature of Islamic art and architecture. The dome creates space and is about finding shelter and home (dome as in domestic). One way to build this space is through prayer, particularly when prayer is the lead in to the day, because, as in most religious traditions, waking up to God is the early morning call of our lives and how we open up our days and lead our lives.
For example, the Fajr prayers in Islam. Fajr means dawn. Fajr prayer is said in that period from the first light of dawn to sunrise. This is what the Islamic Renaissance blog says of the benefits of Fajr prayer:
It is the light of the sun that sustains all life on the planet, enables and causes all things to grow, and provides warmth and comfort, safety and security to humanity. In the same way, the Fajr prayer provides light and guidance, strength and support, to the human soul and heart, and observing Fajr prayer consistently, with presence and with intention is invaluable to the human being seeking to awaken from unconsciousness, heedlessness and ignorance.
The time for the Fajr prayer is a time of light and barakah, spiritual blessings, and it sets the tone, energy and frequency for the entire day which follows. It is a blessed time, and one need not worry about losing sleep, for with proper spiritual practice, the human body and mind become energized with qudra, divine life-energy and force, and so becomes less dependent upon worldly rest and sustenance for its nourishment
So prayer, and particularly our morning prayer is what shapes our day and makes our dome. On a Christian leadership programme it is right to bask in the appreciation of the place of prayer as our leader as we seek to follow the lead of Christ.
And so we begin with prayer.
“For me personally, prayer becomes more and more a way to listen to the blessing. I have read and written much about prayer, but when I go to a quiet place to pray, I realise that, 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 am so afraid of being cursed, of 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. To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear a voice of blessing – that demands real effort.”
Recently I came to my senses.
I am naturally shy (who isn’t?). It is a defensive attitude – shying away. I was at a conference with colleagues recently – I was feeling intimidated, out of my death wondering what on earth I was doing there. And I listened to the scriptures being read in our worship, and I listened to those around me listening to the scriptures and was moved into their shoes as they reached out for the hope that was in them. I heard their prayer for themselves, for their work, for those around them, for me. Why should I have thought that I am not interesting to my brothers and sisters? Why should I have thought that I have to prove myself in a gracious community? Why should I not trust others to love me?
It didn’t cure my shyness, but made me feel better. I became shy alongside many others – I didn’t shy away.
In many ways we expect to be cursed – I wonder whether when people come together they want a blessing but expect a curse.
Henri Nouwen’s book (1992) was written in response to a friend who said this:
“Speak to us about the deepest yearnings of our hearts, about our many wishes, not about the many strategies for survival, but about trust; not about new methods of satisfying our emotional needs, but about love. Speak to us about a vision larger than our changing perspectives and about a voice deeper than the clamourings of the mass media. Yes, speak to us about something or someone greater than ourselves. Speak to us about … God.”
“You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests”
Were these words only spoken to Jesus? Or are these words which god wants us to hear? But they are words which are often drowned out in the business of our lives as we try to prove ourselves relevant, spectacular or powerful.
In what ways have we been loved? – our parents, friends, teachers, children, parishioner ……
As Nouwen says, “We are beloved. We are intimately loved long before our parents, teachers, spouses, children and friends loved or wounded us.”
Nouwen says that the 4 most important words for him are taken (chosen), blessed, broken and given.
On “taken” (chosen) “When we claim and constantly reclaim the truth of being the chosen ones, we soon discover within ourselves a deep desire to reveal to others their own chosenness.” The great joy of being chosen is the discovery that others are chosen as well.
Nouwen tells the story of a bar-mitzvah, in which a young man was declared an adult by his congregation. He gave leadership to the service, read from Genesis and gave a short sermon. His father said: “Son, whatever will happen to you in your life, whether you will have success or not, become important or not, will be healthy or not, always remember how much your mother and I love you.”
What a grace such a blessing is.
“To give a blessing is to affirm, to say “yes” to a person’s Belovedness…. To give a blessing creates the reality of what it speaks.”
One of the women at L’Arche asked Henri for a blessing. He signed her with the cross, and she said “that won’t work: I want a real blessing”. He describes how in the congregation, as soon as he had said “Janet has asked me for a special blessing” Janet stood up and walked towards him. Spontaneously Janet put her arms around Henri and put her head against his chest. He said: “Janet, I want you to know that you are God’s Beloved Daughter. You are precious in God’s eyes. Your beautiful smile, your kindness to the people in your house, and all the good things you do show us what a beautiful human being you are. I know you feel a little low these days and that there is more sadness in your heart, but I want you to remember who you are: a very special person, deeply loved by God and all the people who are here with you.”
“The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessing that rests on us from all eternity. It is the affirmation of our deepest self.”
The words of blessing that we hear tell the truth about who we are, whereas the curses tell lies – those curses are easy to believe but they’re lies nevertheless.
Nouwen suggests two ways to hear our blessing: prayer and presence.
In prayer we develop the habit of searching for a blessing, and inhabit blessing.
Nouwen talks about “brokenness” and “givenness”. About our “givenness”, he comments how different would our lives be if truly trusted in their being multiplied by being given away.
“How different would our life be if we could but believe that every little act of faithfulness, every gesture of love, every word of forgiveness, every little bit of joy and peace will multiply and multiply as long as there are people to receive it … and that – even then – there will be leftovers!
Imagine that your love [for those dear to you], your kindness to your friends, and your generosity to the poor are little mustard seeds that willbecome strong trees in which many birds can build their nests! Imagine that, in the centre of your heart, you trust that your smiles and handshakes, your embraces and your kisses are only the early signs of a worldwide community of love and peace!”
So we take time with this text, reading:
“You are my beloved, on you my favour rests”
Invitation to silence, to take these words, taken/chosen, blessed, broken and given for you – to chew over, to mull over in your minds, to take to heart
“Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.
…Listening to that voice with great inner attentiveness, I hear at my center words that say, “I have called you by name, from the very beginning.
You are mine and I am yours.
You are my Beloved, on you my favour rests.
I have moulded you in the depths of the earth and knitted you together in your mother’s womb.
I have carved you in the palms of my hands and hidden you in the shadow of my embrace.
I look at you with infinite tenderness and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child.
I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step.
Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch.
I will give you food that will satisfy all your hunger and drink that will quench all your thirst.
I will not hide my face from you.
You know me as your own and I know you as my own.
You belong to me. I am your father, your mother, your brother, your sister, your lover and your spouse… Yes, even your child…
Wherever you are I will be. Nothing will separate us. We are one.”
(H. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved)
And here’s another blessing, from Jan Richardson’s Painted Prayerbook
Beginning with Beloved – a blessing
Is there any other word
any other blessing
with this name,
Comes like a mercy
to the ear that has never
Comes like a river
to the body that has never
seen such grace.
to the heart
aching to be new.
to the soul
wanting to begin
Keep saying it
and though it may
sound strange at first,
watch how it becomes
part of you,
how it becomes you,
as if you never
could have known yourself
as if you could ever
have been other
– Jan Richardson