Be the love
This past Christmas (which seems a lifetime ago now), I received a gift from a good friend. This gift was a book written by Henri J.M. Nouwen called “You are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living”. I'd never heard of Nouwen before, but he is one of my friend’s (many) favourite authors. He was a priest, author, professor and pastor and throughout his life, he combined his interests in theology and psychology, writing prolifically on these topics (his books include ‘The Wounded Healer’, ‘Reaching Out’ and ‘The Way of the Heart’, among others). Though I knew none of this, and would not consider myself in any way religious, I was immediately struck by the book’s title, “You are the Beloved…” and I was excited by the prospect of reading one page each day and calling it a ‘meditation practice’.
From the minute I got the book, I couldn’t get that word out of my head. Beloved. What does it mean, exactly? And if it’s meant to be a word to show how much people are loved, why is there a horror movie with the same name? So I looked it up. According to the dictionary app on my iPhone, “beloved” is both an adjective and a noun. It means ‘greatly loved; dear to the heart’ as an adjective and ‘a person who is greatly loved’ as a noun. Awwww! I really do love my friends.
And so the year started and I began my daily readings on the 1st of January. It took me some time to get into the swing of it and I wasn’t really sure how it was a meditation, but I kept going. Over time, I also started to wonder why this book had been gifted to me with all its talk of god and Jesus. Still, each day, before getting out of bed, I’d read. Some mornings, I’d feel anger and confusion as I read; other mornings, I'd find what I considered gems right there on the page. One of these gems resonated quite a bit with me. It was in a passage about intimacy. Nouwen was writing about marriage and how this intimacy helps us be closer to God and then writes: “The same is true for friendship. Deep and mature friendship does not mean that we keep looking each other in the eyes and are constantly impressed or enraptured by each other’s beauty, talents and gifts, but it means that together we look at God, who calls us to God’s service.”
Now, I’ll hold my hands up here and say that I still don’t know what I think about God and the existence of God even though I believe I should be old enough to have decided by now. Take God out of the equation and talk about nature or the universe and, strangely, I feel I’m in more comfortable territory. This must have something to do with the ‘God = religion’ equation in my head, and even if that’s not it, it's a fact that I'm reluctant and uncomfortable talking about ‘looking at God’ or being ‘called’ to God’s service. And yet, I’m quite happy to admit that there are times when I feel completely connected to the universe and times I feel beloved.
Like those times when I ask a question at work which is suitably answered, and a few days later, documentation comes through the post because the person I asked the question of thought that information would be helpful to me. Or when someone contacts me out of the blue to ask me how I’m doing because, well, lockdown. Or when my neighbour, for the third time in a month, comes by with half a roast chicken because I once mentioned I had a craving for roast chicken but didn’t dare cook one as there was no way I could get through a whole one myself, my husband being a vegetarian.
Reading that back, I notice it doesn’t seem to take much to make me feel beloved. A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about my friends, how they treat me and how they have shaped me into who I am today. It is those friends who continually show me that I am beloved. Each time I receive a ‘proof of love’, I feel grateful, emotional, overwhelmed - and surprised at the strength of my reaction. I feel connected to something bigger than myself and I feel beloved. It’s as if at those times, a higher power, God or the universe reminds me I am loved, unconditionally, and if I am loved in that way, I can be that love for others.
And it's that - the being the love - that seems to attract me to the word 'beloved'. It is a way of being that is important to me. One of my personal commandments (I have 12) is "Always with love." So if in a day I am able to be the love (which some days, I admit, feels impossible), I feel content in the knowledge that I am living my values. Those are the days that I, too, can share my dinner with my neighbour. I, too, can stick something in the post that I think would be helpful to a colleague. I, too, can contact someone just to see how she is doing. These actions, small as they may be, feel more appropriate now than ever. Not just because we are experiencing ‘unprecedented times’. Not just because the –isms are no longer an option and Black Lives Matter. But because in those ways, through those actions, I can be the love I want to see in the world. I can be the kindness I want to see in the world. I know now, more than ever, that it is through our actions that we hold people up. And, if, as I recently heard, love is the binding force that holds our world together, the time is now for me to be the love. That love starts with me and carries through all of my relationships and all of my interactions. If I can be the love, there is a chance that each person I interact with can feel beloved.
So maybe Henri was right. Maybe I’m looking at God through my friendships when I feel beloved or when I work to be the love in my interactions with others. Or maybe I'm tapping into some other force or power when this happens. I'm not convinced it matters. What might matter more is that I keep trying. And maybe, just maybe, it matters that others try it too.