For a couple of hours on Saturday mornings, I can be found gathered around a table with five other women sharing life together as sisters in Christ. We decide on a book to read, a chapter a week, and discuss our perceptions, lessons, questions, insights that we gained in our reading. It is a rich experience always; and I find that this time spent regularly has become a key component in my continued growth as a Christian, and my connection to the Body of Christ.
Life of the Beloved
One of the books we read together is continuing to work on my mind and heart. Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, by Henri Nouwen, is a joyful work, laying out a case for how God feels about us: that we are the Beloved, that our identity is in Christ, and that the Holy Spirit wants to take us deeper into living this reality in our everyday lives.
Early in the book, Nouwen says, “I am thoroughly convinced that the origin and goal of our existence have everything to do with the ways we think, talk, and act in our daily lives. When our deepest truth is that we are the Beloved and when our greatest joy and peace come from fully claiming that truth, it follows that this has to become visible and tangible in the ways we eat and drink, talk and love, play and work.”
One of the most important conversations during our study centered on what life would look like if we really believed that we not only are loved by God, but that we are, in fact, the Beloved. We admitted to one another that though we have walked with him for decades, that if we really and truly believed that we are the Beloved, then life would be a lot different. One of us said, “If I really believed I was the Beloved, then I wouldn’t be so anxious.” Another said, “. . . . I would be able to share with others without resentment; would be more generous.” And yet another said, “I think there would be a constant peace and well-being, if I really believed I am the Beloved.”
The Movements of the Spirit
In the Introduction, Nouwen says, “So, my task now is to write about that process of becoming the Beloved as it can be pinpointed in our very concrete daily lives. What I will attempt to describe are the movements of the Spirit as they take place within us and around us. What I want to describe is how the movements of the Spirit of love manifest themselves in our daily struggles and how we can develop disciplines to identify these movements and respond to them in our actions. “
As my friends and I studied over a few weeks, I found myself thinking more and more about being the Beloved and the process of becoming more and more aware of that fact. The positive, hopeful, joyful presentation of the Life of the Beloved caught my attention, inspired my thinking, and encouraged me to persevere in the faith.
But it was a warning of Nouwen’s that actually spurred me to action. About our life in Christ, the most important thing in our lives, He said, “When the deepest currents of our life no longer have any influence on the waves at the surface, then our vitality will eventually ebb, and we will end up listless and bored even when we are busy.”
Encouragement During Hard Times
These words were like a spotlight straight to the center of my daily life. It has been a hard few years. I have found myself listless, without energy for more than the basics, much more often than I wanted to admit. Like the lyrics in a song sung by Babbie Mason, “Show Me How to Love,” I needed the eyes of my heart to be opened to see more clearly who I am in Him and the power of the Spirit to “wash away my complacency”.
It is easy to be complacent when you are in ministry, because in so many ways I am doing just fine. I am in prayer, in the Word, practicing spiritual disciplines, serving those he brings across my path—all the outward signs of a practicing Christian. But deeper, in my heart of hearts, I needed something more; I needed a fresh “Wind of the Spirit,” to borrow a title from a book by a fellow Quaker, Alan Kolp.
On the Edge of My Seat
The combination of these two things—vision cast for Life as the Beloved, and a warning about the cost of not paying attention to the call to come closer to Him—that has me on the edge of my seat these days, anticipating what He might do next, and how I might cooperate with Him.
I hope you will read the book and like it as well as I did. If you want to read an article instead of, or better yet, as a precursor to reading it, I like “Why Does God Love Us? Do We Really Deserve It?” by a blogger named Jack Wellman.
One of the scriptures Wellman highlights came up in our book study: “The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.” Zephaniah 3:17
Mary is one of the founders of Where Grace Abounds and served as Executive Director from its inception on July, 1986 through March 31st, 2007. She speaks and teaches at churches and conferences across the country. She has also served on several boards of non-profit organizations, is a conference speaker on a variety of topics that include: Intimacy with God, Healthy Sexuality, and leadership development. She currently serves in leadership in her denomination. Mary’s favorite ministry roles are discipleship counseling, group facilitation, and leadership development.
Mary often characterizes herself as “a seeker of Truth” and has a long-standing fascination with human behavior and motiviation. Her education consists of lay and discipleship counseling, indepentent study about the integration of psychology and theology, counseling and human sexuality. She also holds a BS in Human Services and an MA in Psychology from Regis University.
Mary attends a Friends (Quaker) Church.