Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Living the "Life of the Beloved"

I had heard things about Henri Nouwen over the years, and knew that I would enjoy reading his works - but there are so many other books to read that he didn't make it to the top of the list. This summer, I was feeling kind of lost. I wanted to rekindle the passion for Christ that I've had before, but that in the last year had been waning in the wake of moving to a new place, the loss of my grampa, and feeling as though some of my life goals were at odds with God's plans.

A friend of mine, Matt F., loves Nouwen, and had a devotional book with excerpts from him and as I read a few pages one morning, I knew that I had to read Nouwen this summer. I asked for Matt's favorite Nouwen book and he suggested the book I'm reviewing today: "Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World."

Nouwen wrote this book for a Jewish friend of his, who had asked Henri to write something for him and his secular friends. Henri undertook to write a book that expressed the heart of Christianity and that in some ways would lead these men and women to a better understanding of God's love for them, and eventually to Christ. What I found when reading it was a powerful reminder of how loved I am by God and who I was created to be in Christ.

The book is broken up into three parts: Being the Beloved, Becoming the Beloved, and Living as the Beloved. Ultimately, the book presents a portrait of the Eucharist - and then applies that portrait to each of us. Here's a brief idea of how he talks about it, with a quote or two from each section to give you an idea.

First, remembering that we are TAKEN - that God claims us as his own, he grasps hold of us - like Jesus grasped hold of the bread.
"When you lose touch with your chosenness, you expose yourself to the temptation of self-rejection, and that temptation undermines the possibility of ever growing as the Beloved." (p.56) ~ boy, this had been my experience this year, and at this moment, I knew that my appointment with this book was divine.

Next, we are BLESSED - God's complete and total love for us, the fact, in grace, that we can never lose God's love and blessing for us - like Jesus raising the bread to heaven and blessings it.
"I tell you this because I know how moody you and I can be. One day we feel great, the next we feel miserable. One day we are full of new ideas, the next everything looks bleak and dull. One day we think we can take on the whole world, but the next even a little request seems to much for us. These moods swings show that we no longer hear the blessing that was heard by Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob, Leah and Rachel, and Jesus of Nazareth and that we, too, are to hear. When we are thrown up and down by the little waves on the surface of our existence, we become easy victims of our manipulative world, but when we continue to hear the deep gentle voice that blesses us, we can walk through life with a stable sense of well-being and true beloning." (p. 73)

Third, we are BROKEN - God allows us to be broken; to experience hurt and pain, to be humbled - like Jesus breaking the bread.
"Yes, we have to find the courage to embrace our own brokenness, to make our most feared enemy into a friend, and to claim it as an intimate companion." (p. 93)

Finally, we are GIVEN - God uses us, in our broken humanness, to feed others - like Jesus serving the bread.
"Our greatest fulfillment lies in giving ourselves to others." (p. 106)

I chose to read this little book (less than 150 pages) one chapter per morning. Each day I would read and reflect, and - well frankly - weep. But a good weeping; a weeping which led me to peace in my spirit, and to a rejuvenated sense of self. This book helped me to remember God's love for me, and to see my own ability to bring God's love to others. It also reminded me that the joys and pains of life are intimately intertwined - and that its OK to live deeply this way. As you read it, may the Lord use it to breathe his love and blessing deeply into your life and then into the lives of others around you.


Shannon R Dean said...

Thanks for sharing that! I haven't read this one, but apparently, I need to add it to the list!

Liz said...

Love, love, love this book! Need to read it annually!

victorious03 said...

love that book. the eucharist is so powerful and fundamental to our faith.