Day 2 — Belovedness (Tuesday, 12 February – Monday 18 February, 2013)

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn. "The Return of the Prodigal Son." The Hermitage.

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn. “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” The Hermitage.

“Once there was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to the father, ‘Father, give me my share of the property that will come to me.’ So he divided up his estate between the two of them. Before very long, the younger son collected all his belongings and went off to a distant land, where he squandered his wealth in the wildest extravagance. And when he had run through all his money, a terrible famine arose in that country, and he began to feel the pinch. Then he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country who sent him out into the fields to feed the pigs. He got to the point of longing to stuff himself with the husks the pigs were eating, and not a soul gave him anything. Then he came to his senses and cried aloud, ‘Why, dozens of my father’s hired men have more food than they can eat and here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go back to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have done wrong in the sight of Heaven and in your eyes. I don’t deserve to be called your son any more. Please take me on as one of your hired men.”‘ So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still some distance off, his father saw him and his heart went out to him, and he ran and fell on his neck and kissed him. But his son said, ‘Father, I have done wrong in the sight of Heaven and in your eyes. I don’t deserve to be called your son any more…’ ‘Hurry!’ called out his father to the servants, ‘fetch the best clothes and put them on him! Put a ring on his finger and shoes on his feet, and get that fatted calf and kill it, and we will have a feast and a celebration! For this is my son — he was dead , and he’s alive again. He was lost, and now he’s found!’ And they began to get the festivities going.

“But the elder son was out in the fields, and as he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants across to him and enquired what was the meaning of it all. ‘Your brother has arrived, and your father has killed the fatted calf because he has got him home again safe and sound,’ was the reply. But he was furious and refused to go inside the house. So his father came outside and pleaded with him. Then he burst out, ‘Look, how many years have I slaved for you and never disobeyed a single order of yours, and yet you have never given me so much as a young goat so I could give my friends a dinner? But when this sun of yours arrives, who has spent all your money on prostitutes, for him you kill the fatted calf!’ But the father replied, ‘My dear son, you have been with me all the time and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and show our joy. For this is your brother; he was dead — and he’s alive. He was lost — and now he is found!'”
— Luke 15:12-32 (Phillips)

Consider the incredible love that the Father has shown us in allowing us to be called “children of God” — and that is not just what we are called, but what we are.
— 1 John 3:1a (Phillips)

Our Story: Exploring Its Depth

I confess: I read all the questions for this day and mulled over them for a few days because I didn’t really know what to “do” with them. I’m ridiculously introspective, I don’t need to “learn how” to stretch my brain to embrace meditating on photographs, images, or life events. Henri J.M. Nouwen wrote in his book The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society on the idea that only a wounded healer can minister effectively to others, but to do so he or she must be willing to wrap his or her wounds individually, so as to be able to carefually unwrap them later so they may be a source of healing for others.

This I get.

Contemplation is the default operating gear in my spiritual transmission, I don’t need to be stretched toward that particular practice or discipline. That’s not to say that I have perfected it to the point where it is no longer necessary, but, rather that questions geared toward what I thought about contemplation just don’t apply as any sort of novelty.

Because of my limitations with respect to access to photographs and memories of my life, true contemplation as it was assigned was impossible. The one insight — and not a particularly new one — was the reminder that how I view myself is out-of-alignment with how God views me. That’s honest, but it’s also not easy to know about myself — thinking too little of myself is just as self-centered as thinking too much of myself because the focus is “self” and not God.

The moments of my life story where I have felt most totally known by God were always the most private and intimate. Not merely the moments of rawness and despair when every piece of my life seemed blown apart or when I was seriously ill or close to death — those are the moments of spiritual nakedness before God, when one feels the chill in knowing that there is no veneer on the most base and depraved surfaces of the soul. Beyond those moments of tempest, suffering, despair and agitation there were also great moments of peace. Solitude in nature tunes my soul to remove spiritual dissonance. For just as spiritual nakedness brings a person closer to God as the one final sure thing to cling to when all other possible grasping points have failed, to find God in nature slowly removes the layers of worldly distractions as God’s fingerprints and presence can be seen and felt in all things. God knows me best when I am at my most vulnerable and when I am most worshipful, for those are the moments when I cling most tightly to his presence.

I had a day this week — February 14th — when I was obligated to spend an entire day waiting for various appointments at a local county medical center. I read a passage in Henri Nouwen’s (posthumous) work Home Tonight: Further Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son that stopped my confused mind and gave me pause and focus: the root of my acceptance problem is my inability (for whatever reason or reasons) to accept my identity and embrace my belovedness as a child of God.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Rembrandt hangs in the Hermitage in St. Petersberg, Russia. The composition of the painting is not entirely correct because the elder brother is present at the moment of homecoming, but it is a powerful work. It’s a work that profoundly influenced and impacted Nouwen. He wrote The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming in response. There are pieces of us all and seasons of our lives where we reflect each of the three main characters; Nouwen argues that — as Christians — we are called to move away from living life from the perspective of one of the two sons and live life from the perspective of the father. It is a powerful book, one well-worth reading. It is a challenging book — all the more worth reading. In Return of the Prodigal Son, meditating on the younger son, Nouwen writes:

I see before me a man who went deep into a foreign land and lost everything he took with him. I see emptiness, humiliation, and defeat. He who was so much like his father now looks worse than his father’s servants. He has become like a slave.

What happened to the son in the distant country? Aside from all the material and physical consequences, what were the inner consequences of the son’s leaving home? The sequence of events is quite predictable. The farther I run away from the place where God dwells, the less I am able to hear that voice, the more entangled I become in the manipulations and power games of the world.

It goes somewhat like this: I am not so sure anymore that I have a safe home, and I observe other people who seem to be better off than I. I wonder how I can get to where they are. I try hard to please, to achieve success, to be recognized. When I fail, I feel jealous or resentful of these others. When I succeed, I worry that others will be jealous or resentful of me. I become suspicious or defensive and increasingly afraid that I won’t get what I so much desire or will lose what I already have. Caught in this tangle of needs and wants, I no longer know my own motivations. I feel victimized by my surroundings and distrustful of what others are doing or saying. Always on my guard, I lose my inner freedom and start dividing the world into those who are for me and those who are against me, I wonder if anyone really cares. I start looking for validations of my distrust. And wherever I go, I see them, and I say: “No one can be trusted.” And then I wonder whether anyone ever really loved me. The world around me becomes dark. My heart grows heavy. My body is filled with sorrows. My life loses meaning. I have become a lost soul.

The younger son became fully aware of how lost he was when no one in his surroundings showed the slightest interest in in him. They noticed him only as long as he could be used for their purposes. But when he had no money left to spend and no gifts left to give, he stopped existing for them…When no one wanted to give him the food he was giving to the pigs, the younger son realized that he wasn’t even considered a fellow human being…

When the younger son was no longer considered a human being by the people around him, he felt the profundity of his isolation, the deepest loneliness one can experience. He was truly lost, and it was this complete lostness that brought him to his senses. He was shocked into the awareness of his utter alienation and suddenly understood that he had embarked on the road to death. He had become so disconnected from what gives life — family, friends, community, acquaintances, and even food — that he realized that death would be the natural next step. All at once he saw clearly the path he had chosen and where it would lead him; he understood his own death choice; and he knew that one more step in the direction he was going would take him to self-destruction.

In that critical moment, what was it that allowed hm to opt for life? It was the rediscovery of his deepest self.

That is the background for the refection in Home Tonight, a passage that speaks to one of Henri Nouwen’s central themes in his later writings: belovedness. This is what Nouwen wrote that hit me between the eyes:

The whole parable is about the journey of an arrogant, lost, and set-free adolescent finding the path to mature adulthood. He thinks he knows the way to unlimited pleasure but gets painfully lost along the way. The story ends as he falteringly “claims” his true belonging and “tastes” the truth of who he really is — a beloved child.

Personally, as my own struggle reveals, I don’t often “feel” like a beloved child of God. But I know that is my most primal identity and I know that I must choose it above and beyond my hesitations.

Strong emotions, self-rejection, and even self-hatred justifiably toss you about, but you are free to respond as you will. You are not what others, or even you, think about yourself. You are not what you do. You are not what you have. You are a full member of the human family, having been known before you were conceived and molded in your mother’s womb. In times when you feel bad about yourself, try to choose to remain true to the truth of who you really are. Look in the mirror each day and claim your true identity. Act ahead of your feelings and trust that one day your feelings will match your convictions. Choose now and continue to choose this incredible truth. As a spiritual practice claim and reclaim your primal identity as beloved daughter or son of a personal Creator.

Fr. Nouwen, that is much easier said than done. The truth is, love can only be received if it is accepted. I probably err greatly by subconsciously framing God in human terms when I don’t embrace my belovedness.

No, I am not fully accepting of who I am today. Unraveling what the areas where I am not accepting of myself even are must be the first step. That will be a prayerful journey in itself. This must be done before I can hold these areas up to God: in order to put my brokenness on the altar, I first need to find all the pieces, and I need the Holy Spirit’s help for that. Clearly I also need to be receptive to the ways God wants to love in me, change in me, and make use of me for others; the accident knocked aspects of that off-center.

And as for the crossroads in my journey, in the people, the places, and the situations that have shaped my life? There have been many instances where God’s providence was strongly present, most especially all the cases where death seemed the very real and probable outcome. Those moments when I later found I was protected from great harm in situations where I could never have known the danger. And the very truth is that Satan tried to kill me off in that accident last December. I’m still trying to unpack all I think and feel about that. God is great. Amen to that. — VKS

I love this song. RE: the video? That’s some kind of special camera!


2 thoughts on “Day 2 — Belovedness (Tuesday, 12 February – Monday 18 February, 2013)

  1. Pingback: Day 2 — Belovedness (Tuesday, 12 February – Monday 18 February, 2013) | St. Val the Eccentric

  2. A friend of mine sent me a message elsewhere:

    “Clearly I also need to be receptive to the ways God wants to love in me, change in me, and make use of me for others; the accident knocked aspects of that off-center.”……. could it be that the accident IS the center? “Satan tried to kill me off in that accident”…..Divine rescue. Yes, unpacking that is mind-blowing…I ❤ Mary Magdelene

    My reply to her (edited below to remove personal details) was as follows:

    I think the accident is the center only insofar as the place where the pebble fell is the center of the ripples in a pond. The reason I say the accident knocked me off-center is that there were a few weeks of such acute pain and such profound physical need that the presence of God was perceptively absent because the place I was and the narcotic haze I was in wholly shut God out. It was like a windstorm came by and knocked the antenna off the roof for a month, but I didn’t notice because I was too tired to watch TV or tripping on the test pattern. God will use it, but it wasn’t of him. [RE: divine rescue]…there can be a spiritual nakedness in that when you finally come to the place of realizing what has been at stake. I read a thing last week that characterized us as “soul and dust” — dust seems pretty expendable when you’re somehow divorced from the reality of the existence of your soul. The rawness comes when you realize no dust can hide your soul’s brokenness. Find me one person in the Bible who was important to God who knew the extent of how important. The dual nature of Christ is the only one you WILL find, everyone else left on an ego trip. Yes, Mary Magdelene is one of the saints I “collect” — I love the de la Tours painting (she usually hangs next to Augustine, but is currently touring tne globe with the “Caravaggio and His Legacy” exhibition). Interestingly, how Mary Magdelene has been depicted over time has changed, but for awhile when she was depicted at the crucifixion? She was bare-headed, embracing the base of the cross, weeping hysterically, blood dripping down on her. One of the things Ignation Spirituality promotes is imaginative prayerful meditation of scripture. That doesn’t always work for me, but at the Crucifixion, I am always Mary Magdelene…but maybe not *quite* that emotionally unrestrained.

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