This is a guided retreat that the Pastoral Leadership Team (Elders and Pastors) of Zion Mennonite Church recently did together. Out of the need to “nurture the nurturers,” I drew it up, based on one of the books that has most nurtured me, Life of the Beloved, by an author who has often nurtured me, the late Fr. Henry Nouwen. First printed in 1992, it is still available in print, on Kindle, Audiobooks and other media. There is also a copy in Zion’s church library. I offer this retreat to anyone who would want to spend a few hours or a day even to reflect on the quotes and the questions drawn from this masterpiece of the Christian life, with only a few minor changes to the questions that were geared specifically to the Pastoral Leadership Team.
INTRODUCTION TO LIFE OF THE BELOVED
Sometime in the 1980’s, a secular friend of Jewish background asked Fr. Henri Nouwen to write something about Christian spirituality that might speak to nonreligious people like himself. After much reflection, Nouwen first focused on the affirmation of God the Father to Jesus the Son, at his baptism (Mk. 1:9) and again on the Mount of Transfiguration: “You are my Beloved Son.”
Because of Christ’s willing identification with us, even among sinners in the water of baptism, everything that is his as God’s Beloved is ours as well:
“In love God predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” (Eph. 1: 5-6)
Life in Christ means receiving and living out the truth that God sees and says about us: “You are My Beloved.”
To explain how we are, and yet become, God’s Beloved, Nouwen then took the words of institution that he used for communion (Mt. 26: 26), in particular, the four verbs, and used them to describe four movements of the Christian spiritual life:
“Jesus took bread, and when he had blessed it, he broke it and gave it to his disciples…”
For Fr. Nouwen, accepting and living out our identity as God’s Beloved means that we understand ourselves and so live as those who are Taken (or Chosen), Blessed, Broken and Given. Below are some quotes from Life of the Beloved to read, followed by some questions for reflection
- BEING GOD’S BELOVED
“…though the experience of being the Beloved has never been completely absent from my life, I never claimed it as my core truth. I kept running around it in large or small circles, always looking for someone or something able to convince me of my Belovedness…I was much more eager to listen to other, louder voices saying: ‘Prove that you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular or powerful and then you will earn the love you so desire.’”
“Every time you listen with great attentiveness to the voice that calls you the Beloved, you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply. It is like discovering a well in the desert.”
“From the moment we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are.”
Questions to consider:
- When and how did I first start to consider and accept that God loves me?
- When and why might I find it hard to believe that God sees me and loves me as he does Jesus?
2. BEING CHOSEN
“We touch here 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…It is not a competitive choice but a compassionate choice.”
“How do we get in touch with our chosenness when we are surrounded by rejections?…First of all, you have to keep unmasking the world about you for what it is: manipulative, controlling, power-hungry and, in the long run, destructive….secondly, you have to keep looking for people and places where your truth is spoken and where you are reminded of your deepest identity as the chosen one….Thirdly, you have to celebrate your chosenness constantly. This means saying ‘Thank You’ to God for having chosen you, and ‘thank you’ to all who remind you of your chosenness.”
“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… our awareness of being chosen opens our eyes to chosenness of others.”
Questions to consider:
- What persons, or what experiences, have affirmed my chosenness?
- What have I learned about the ministries for which I have been chosen?
3. BEING BROKEN (both by experiences in life that defy our comprehension and our control, and by fears, compulsions, actions, attitudes and desires of ours that defy our comprehension and control)
“Our brokenness reveals something about who we are….It is where we are most needy and vulnerable that we most experience our brokenness.”
“How can we respond to this brokenness? I’d like to suggest two ways: first, befriending it and, second, putting it under the blessing…..The first response, then, to our brokenness is to face it squarely and befriend it….the first step to healing is not a step away from the pain, but a step toward it.
“The second response to our brokenness is to put it under the blessing….Then our brokenness will gradually come to be seen as an opening toward the full acceptance of ourselves as the Beloved.”
Questions to consider:
- What experiences and un-resolvable questions and dilemmas have broken me, or something in me?
- What are the signs and symptoms of my own personal kind of brokenness?
- How has my brokenness connected in life-giving ways with the brokenness of others?
4. BEING GIVEN
“In the giving it becomes clear that we are chosen, blessed and broken not simply for our own sakes, but so that all we live finds its final significance in its being lived for others. …beyond all our desires to be appreciated, rewarded and acknowledged, there lies a simple and pure desire to give.”
“I realize that there is a mysterious link between our brokenness and our ability to give to each other.”
“First of all, our life itself is the greatest gift to give….Secondly, we are called to give ourselves, not only in life but in death as well….as the Beloved, I am called to trust that life is a preparation for death as a final act of giving.”
“We may be little, insignificant servants in the eyes of a world motived by efficiency, control and success. But when we realize that God has chosen us from all eternity and sent us into the world as the blessed ones, handed us over to suffering, can’t we, then, also trust that our little lives will multiply themselves and be able to fulfill the needs of countless people?”
Questions to consider:
- In what ways am I a gift to others?
- What other persons are gifts to me? Why, and in what ways are they gifts to me, to the community and to the church?
- What do I need to do so that my death is a freeing and empowering gift for others, and not a crippling, controlling legacy for others?
5. BEING BLESSED:
(I saved the second verb for the end of the retreat, as a way of bringing it to closure and sending us forth. Go with these thoughts and words:)
“In Latin, to bless is benedicere. The word “benediction that is used in many churches means literally: speaking (diction) well (bene) or saying good things of someone.”
“…claiming your own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others.”
“But now, this is what the Lord says—he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine.” Is. 43:1