There is a theme that runs through the books we have been reading, although Keller and Nouwen speak of this theme somewhat differently. The theme for Nouwen is recognizing that we are beloved; Keller speaks of this insight from the perspective of salvation. Father Nouwen has written other books which delve into discovering and living into beloved-ness, which are also well worth pursuing. However, in the spirit of full disclosure, I am a fan of virtually anything Nouwen has written. The Rev. Charlie Cook, who led the Executive Council retreat this past weekend, spoke of a friend of his who also knew Fr. Nouwen fairly well. His friend said one time that Nouwen could get anything published, including his grocery list. I confess I would probably purchase and read that list with great glee.
Yesterday, I had the privilege of celebrating the Baptism of two new members of the Body of Christ; Olivia is a beautiful four-month-old infant and Dylan is a young man about 25, and both were “born anew” into Christ Jesus. At every Baptism, I am reminded of the words of the Father as Jesus comes up out of the waters of the Jordan River, “This is my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17 and Luke 3:22) Would that we could only remember how beloved we are to the Father! How different our lives would be, and therefore how different we would respond to the needs of the world.
I have a friend in San Angelo who is a retired pediatrician. Dr Ralph Chase began saying to his patients almost 50 years ago, “You know what? You are wonderful and I love you.” He began that refrain when he realized one day that many of his patients received absolutely no affirmation just for affirmation’s sake. Out of his own deep piety, Dr. Chase found that he could make a difference in children’s lives not through science, but by proclaiming their beloved-ness to them. Ralph now offers that same refrain to almost everyone. Any time I see the good doctor, I try to repeat his words to him before he has a chance to speak; it has become something of a contest for us to see who can offer that affirmation first. What a joy to know such a saint!
I have taken for myself a slightly different slant with young children, usually younger than 7 years old or so. When I have a chance to speak to them I will say, “You are wonderful. Do you know that?” Most of the time the children will say, “Yes,” sometime to the protestations of their parents, which I ignore. I then tell them, “Don’t ever forget it!”
You see, I am convinced that sometime around age 7, we begin to forget how beloved by God we really are and begin to search for a myriad of ways to show our parents, teachers, friends, and even ourselves that we have some value. Some use academics, some use mind altering substances, some use their bodies, some use religion. Some become “younger brothers” and some “older brothers” and some a combination of the two, trying desperately to find or earn beloved-ness. Both Nouwen and Keller are calling us to listen carefully for the voice of God speaking to our hearts, reminding us that we too are beloved, not because of what we do or don’t do, but just because we are.
More on this tomorrow.