At the beginning of the year, Esther preached a sermon where she prompted us to think of ourselves as God’s beloved. There was a lot more to it – and that might not even have been the point of her sermon – but that was my takeaway. To think of what it might mean to consider myself God’s beloved.
I did think about it for awhile. I googled it, I pondered, I wrote a few lines . . . and then I forgot about it until the Lent materials reminded me again.
Our theme this year is Living Ink. Now I’ll be honest, when I saw that phrase at the top of the resource, I was surprised to see that we were focussing on tattoos. That’s what the phrase made me think of. And I wondered what they would do with that . . . our lives as the canvasses for God to write His and our story on?
Well that wasn’t it – but I wasn’t as far off as you might think. It’s the ink of an author rather than tattoo artist. An author who calls us into co-authorship, using our lives to shape Jesus’ kingdom story. A story that includes all our struggles, pains, joys, and victories. A story of relationship and a shared journey.
And this week we’re reminded that we don’t always need to hold the pen. That sometimes we can put it down and let God do the writing.
I thought I’d try on that idea of being co-author with God – see what it looks like. I don’t know that anything new came of it but the retelling may bring new insight.
I envisioned it like this.
She invited me to co-author a book with her. A book about life. My life, specifically.
And so we started writing together. The first days were, as they say, heady. It sometimes felt as though we were of one mind. I could feel her commitment not only to the book but also to me, as co-author. She encouraged me, built up my skills, and made me feel that together we could face any obstacles that the book threw at us.
After a while I started working on it on my own. I was on a roll and didn’t pause to ask her opinion. I don’t think I even noticed the change, actually. Sometimes I’d pay heed to her comments – affirming my word choice, suggesting a new turn of phrase. Sometimes I’d acknowledge her; other times I just kept going.
With time I noticed her partnership less and less. I didn’t listen to her suggestions but kept moving the in the direction we’d determined together. To be honest, the book didn’t look very different than it would have- we’d built a good foundation together.
But the subtle changes were starting to affect my choices. Her suggestions and edits flet like interruptions to my creative flow. I stopped taking her calls and started ignoring her texts. One day when I’d written a particularly good chapter, I changed the cover page to indicate I was the author and she was the editor. Not a big deal – just a more realistic description of our working relationship
The writing got a little harder. I was entering a section that required a little more pausing to determine the right approach. I was frustrated – it was getting harder to find just the right word. Sometimes I’d just stop writing. Other times I’d try a word, cross it out, try another, cross it out . . . .
I was starting to hate the book – alternated with just not caring. Most often, though, I kept plugging away. But I felt at a loss as to what to do and so very alone.
One day when I’d experienced writer’s block for awhile, I decided to step back and re-read what I’d written. I read the most recent chapter and felt my discouragement growing.
So I started at the beginning again. I read those early days when the book had been a partnership and remembered the joy. And then I saw the dedication. I’d forgotten that she’d written that.
To my Beloved child
Who I love
and who pleases me.
No matter how difficult the chapters ahead,
I am with you each word of the way.
For you are mine.
The tears filled my eyes. I looked at my phone and saw the blinking message light. There was call after call after call. She hadn’t stopped reaching out when I’d kept too busy to notice.
And so, with shaking hands, I called her back and invited her back to our book. To write together – and, when I was too tired, to pick up the pen and write on my behalf.
Shortly after I finished writing that, I saw that Anne Lamott had posted some thoughts on Facebook that seemed to echo some of the thoughts in here – about the partnership with God and our need to sometimes let go. She wrote,
. . . We can’t fix ourselves, and we’re not supposed to. We are broken. We are all damaged and flailing. We are recovering Higher Powers. You do not want to sit next to people at dinner who will not admit this. Eugene O’Neill said we are born broken, and that the grace of God is glue. That’s the good news. The glue stick of grace is everywhere. The world is like your worst kitchen drawer that you have meant to clean out for three years, mostly full of junk that you don’t need but can’t throw out, with five old glue sticks and seven crumpled tubes of super glue, two of which are still useable. And this is the great miracle. The grace of God is glue; and it is spiritual WD-40, and it fresh air and it is free, yours for the asking.
. . .
This article that I would like to come upon would end with the reminder that, all evidence to the contrary, we are loved and chosen and safe. We come from God, from Goodness, we’re returning to God, but unfortunately, in the meantime, everything is mixed up, sometimes annoying and usually very messy. So we try to keep the patient comfortable. We get thirsty people water. Yes, maybe we eat just a tiny, tiny bit more Valentines candy than is absolutely ideal. Then? We start over, again and again and again. Starting now. Ready, set, go.
A colleague was talking to me about Lent this week and about the practice of giving something up. I mentioned that sometimes people add something instead of taking something away. But at the moment, when we were talking, I couldn’t think of anything.
But I’m going to throw out a thought for each of us to consider – that Beloved be your Lenten theme. That instead of (or in addition to) giving something up, we strive to live each day during this season as if we truly believed that we are Beloved. Even if you don’t or can’t believe it right now. I wonder how different our lives would look if we started each day by saying ‘I am God’s Beloved’. Or “God has named me Beloved”. Or if when we meditated, we breathed in to “Beloved” and out to “God’s Child”.
You may wonder how this ties to today’s passage. mostly I’ve been focusing on the overall theme for Lent. But there is a tie.
You’ll recall that last time I spoke I read a couple of pieces by Jan Richardson. I looked to see what she had to say about Lent, about this Lent. She, also, talked about being Beloved. She points out that if we look to the chapter before the story of Jesus in the wilderness – when he was baptized – then we will be able to enter this week’s text with the same knowledge that Jesus had: that when he went into the dessert, he went with the baptismal water clinging to him and the name Beloved ringing in his ears. This is what strengthened him for the 40 days before him, for the deprivation and temptation. Knowing his name: Beloved.
Her thoughts encouraged me to revisit the story, looking at what it might have been like for Jesus.
The water was still dripping from my hair and clothes, forming a trail where I walked, as I headed into the wilderness.
My head and heart are full. “This is my chosen, my beloved, who pleases me.” The words from the heavens ring through my mind. The uncertainty I’d felt about my life, my role, fell off as I felt the waters wash away my past and the voice of God affirm my future. I was where I was supposed to be. The next 40 days in the wilderness, a tradition for many of our spiritual leaders, would ground my work in the words and teachings I received from Yahweh.
The buzz from my baptism carried me through the day. But when the sun abruptly set and the temperature dropped, I noticed my environment for the first time.
I wished I’d looked around during the daylight so I wouldn’t be trying to find my bearings in the dark. The shapes all looked threatening. The shadows seemed to move, potentially the hiding place for beats, for creatures that would harm me. I walked, looking for a creek that would sooth my thirst, tripping and falling as I crossed the uneven ground. I finally gave up when my outstretched arms ran me into a cactus, piercing my skin. I began to rethink this mission, this life I thought I was to follow. I can’t do it. The ground is too hard, the world too cold, the dangers to real. I curl up against a boulder, hoping it will emit some radiant heat throughout the night.
I start to crying, begging the Father to take this from me. I can’t stop but it doesn’t matter. I’m all alone here; no one can hear me.
And then through my sobs, I hear the voice. “You are my Beloved. You please me.”
I pause and hear the voice again. “You are my Beloved.”
The words rang through my mind and into my heart. Beloved. You are mine.
This is just the beginning and this night was the first of forty. Throughout this time I face challenges and temptations unlike any I’d encountered before. But whenever I think I’ve had enough, I’m cared for.
And through it all, I hear the voice. Beloved. You are mine.
That knowledge can go with us on our Lenten journey as well.
Jan Richardson has written a blessing for us as we enter this Lent season. I’ll close with her words.
Beloved Is Where We Begin
If you would enter
into the wilderness,
do not begin
without a blessing.
Do not leave
who you are:
named by the One
who has traveled this path
Do not go
without letting it echo
in your ears,
and if you find
it is hard
to let it into your heart,
do not despair.
That is what
this journey is for.
I cannot promise
this blessing will free you
from the scorching
or the fall
of the night.
But I can tell you
that on this path
there will be help.
I can tell you
that on this way
there will be rest.
I can tell you
that you will know
the strange graces
that come to our aid
only on a road
such as this,
that fly to meet us
that come alongside us
for no other cause
than to lean themselves
toward our ear
and with their
whisper our name:
from Circle of Grace
– See more at: http://paintedprayerbook.com/#sthash.Lf2ZLlYv.dpuf
— February, 2016 —