Category: Love, Mercy, Grace, and Forgiveness

You Are Beloved of God: Yet Again

I have used the phrase “you are beloved of God” many times in my writings. (See blog post June 29, 2013). I have also used it frequently in spirituality retreats and classes. Henri Nouwen, one of the most widely read authors on spirituality in our time, is the one who introduced me to this simple, yet profound phrase. He has a series of eight videoson the subject that are well worth watching.
In spite of how much I have used this phrase, and how much it has meant to others, I need to be reminded of this time and time again. There are many voices within me that want to distract me from this truth; voices from the past that tell me that I am not worthy of God’s love for this or that reason. Voices that tell me that I am what I do, that I am what others say about me, that I am what I possess or that I am a composite of all the experiences I’ve had. Indeed, all of these distractions form a part of whom I am, but the core truth that “I am beloved of God” needs to be foremost. 
Invariably, when I teach this phrase to others, they change the phrase to “you are beloved byGod” when repeating it. But there is a clear distinction between the two prepositions. Being loved by God is a good phrase to repeat. However, when we say, “you are beloved of God,” the phrase becomes much more intimate. “Of” shows possession, and means that we are in a much more intimate relationship with God. God “owns” us, if you please. Being loved “by” God is more general while being loved “of” God is more personal. 
If I encounter a person who is feeling low, I tell them that, “you are beloved of God.” You can literally see their eyes shine when they hear this phrase. Then I ask them to look at themselves in the mirror and state out loud, “You are beloved of God!” For some reason, it is extremely difficult for most people to do the mirror exercise. We are so used to seeing our ego and our outward appearance when we look in the mirror, that we forget that we also have a soul that needs to be groomed. It’s a great exercise, even if we are not feeling low. 
Not only is it difficult for most of us to believe that we are beloved of God, but it is often more difficult to understand that others are beloved of God as well. That is especially true for those who are different from us. Can we think of the person who offends us politically or theologically as being beloved of God? How would such an exercise change our view of the person? With all the vitriol being spewed these days on all sides of any given issue, this simple exercise could help us remember that we are all created in God’s image and likeness. 
I often stroll through the streets of the cities I visit, whether at home or abroad, and look at strangers in the eye while smiling and say to them silently, “You are beloved of God.” In the vast majority of these moments I am rewarded with a larger than normal return smile. We are all in need of the reminder that we are beloved of God. 
   
Soli Dei gloria 

As Much As There Is

He catapults out of bed in the middle of the night and I hear his bare feet slapping against the hallway’s wooden floor as he hustles through the darkness.  All of this comes to me as sleep’s heavy shadow gives way to a dim and growing awareness.  Then, he stands beside the bed. 
“Daddy,” he says. 
“What?” my husband mumbles. 
“I love you as much as there is,” he says. 
“Ok, Levi,” my husband replies, his voice clearer now, rising to meet his son’s offer of love.  “I love you too.” 
“Ok, good night.  I’ll see you in the morning,” Levi adds. 
“Good night, see you in the morning,” my husband answers, completing the call and response. 
Levi runs back down the hallway and sleep descends again upon our house. 
// 
“I love you as much as there is” is the latest attempt in five-year-old Levi’s ongoing effort to verbalize the depths of his love for us which, apparently, is particularly intense around two or three in the morning.  He’s fascinated by math and, for a while, tried using the biggest numbers he could think of to express the magnitude of his love.  “I love you 100 times 100,” he would say. 
But it wasn’t enough. 
He knows there are bigger numbers and he doesn’t want to undersize his love.  So, for now, he’s sticking to the enigmatic phrase, “as much as there is.” 
Last night, before I fell back to sleep, I saw for a moment the simple humility of that phrase – a child’s willingness to believe in and try to convey that which is beyond words. 
// 
Real love is like that.  God’s love is like that, so real and yet so big it’s hard to explain. 
The apostle Paul, struggling to convey God’s love to the church at Ephesus, put it this way, 
“I pray that you might have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge (Ephesians 3:18-19).” 
Paul tries to sketch out the dimensions of what he realizes is beyond description, he prays for the Ephesians to somehow receive the ability to comprehend the incomprehensible.  In so doing, he invites them – invites us all – to enter into the depths of God’s love which is both measurable (because it exists) and beyond measure (because of the limits of human comprehension and communication). 
Paul’s prayer comes to us like a voice in the night, the words of someone struggling to communicate what he clearly knows is beyond communication: God loves you as much as there is. 
 

A Journey Through Love and Loss to Healing and Hope

A number of years ago, I read Sharon Butala‘s best-selling account of her life on a cattle ranch in southwest Saskatchewan. She was in her mid-thirties when she married her second husband, and made the move from her urban setting to his more isolated one, from an academic environment to country living. As she explored her new life and landscape, she discovered a new connection with the natural world and reflected deeply on rural life, belonging, and home. [...] Read More ›

We Do Not Tell Stories as They Are…

We do not tell stories as they are; we tell stories as we are… We do not see things as they are, we see them as we are.

I don’t know the original source of this quote, but I came across it in Irish poet/theologian Pádraig Ó Tuama’s In the Shelter a few weeks ago and I’ve been chewing on it ever since. On the face of it, these words could be taken as expressing little more than the tired refrain of postmodernism. We don’t have access to anything like “objective truth”; we have access only to ourselves and our own inner states. The stories we tell are little more than the laborious outworkings of our own biographies. There cannot and could never be a genuinely true story, only stories that are true for me, true for you, true for whoever. Which is of course another way of saying that there are no true stories.  [...]

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Tender: Showing Gentleness and Kindness

Tender adjective 
 
1. Showing gentleness and concern or sympathy 
2. (of food) easy to cut or chew, not tough 
    (of the body) sensitive to pain 
Tenderness noun 
 
1. gentleness and kindness 
2. sensitivity to pain 
A quick Google search tells me that the word tender, in all of its various forms, has fallen out of use steadily and dramatically since the 1800's.  Maybe that’s why, early in my tenure at Physical Therapy, I noticed it as it drifted gently across the far side of the large, open room.  I lay on my own table alone, staring at the ceiling and exercising my abs, when my ears caught wind of the word floating softly like a butterfly on a summer breeze. 
I listened as a young therapist asked, in a gentle, rolling central Pennsylvanian accent, “Is that tender?”  Although I couldn't see the other patient, I imagined the therapist gently moving his or her arm through a slow stretch, palpitating the muscle with deep attention and focus. 
The beauty of the word moved me as did the concern and care evident in the therapist's voice.  The fluttering word landed inside my chest, opening and closing its gentle wings and I gazed upon its intricate beauty as I continued my own careful stretching, flexing and bending.
Later that night I told my husband, “I heard the word ‘tender’ today.  It’s not something you hear very often, is it?  I was so struck by its beauty.” 
Noodling around online, observing the forms and uses of the word, I notice the breadth of its application.  Tenderness might describe a concrete physical reality, like a perfectly cooked pork loin or bruised muscle, but it also refers to an inward stance, a posture of the heart, if you will. 
For me, moments of tenderness, feel like a softening, a movement of openness toward the other that, inherently, leaves me vulnerable to pain – either the awareness of another's pain or the personal pain I might face if someone responds to my openness with attack.  It is often our most tender places that root us most deeply in the reality of our human vulnerabilities and, in that way, my own tenderness points beyond itself to yours, to the truth of our shared humanity.
I don’t know if the decline of the use of the word signifies a hardening of the heart among English language speakers, but I do find it interesting that the phrase’s demise parallels the advent of industrialization and the movement from tactile and interdependent agrarian life to more isolated and automated ways of life.  The less I depend on the natural world and my neighbor for my own well-being, the less I need to worry about your places of tenderness, the less I need to risk telling you about mine, in order to ensure survival. 
Of course, we lose something when we lose awareness of our tender places - in the physical realm we might compensate with a limping gait or inactivity.  In ignoring the tender places, we shut ourselves off from the possibility of their healing and become less tolerant of the tenderness of others.  Our current culture, here in the United States, is one in which it is often unsafe to either reveal or respond in tenderness.  In such an environment we lose not only connection and companionship, but also a fundamental truth about who we are and how we were created to live in relationship others and with the natural world in which we live.
I’d wager too, that when we lose the ability to be treat one another with tenderness, we also lose the ability to recognize tenderness as a key attribute of God.  Even without checking a concordance or delving into Greek and Hebrew word studies, I’m prone to accept Brennen Manning’s affirmation that “Scripture suggests that the essence of divine nature is compassion and that the heart of God is defined by tenderness.” 
 
Signs of this – the tenderheartedness of God – are all over scripture.  The willingness of God to be moved on our behalf, even at the risk of pain, is evident in the thread of love that weaves its way throughout the entirety of the Old Testament all the way through to that fundamental verse of the New Testament that declares, “God so loved the world that he sent . . .” 
Maybe this is a bit much to be making of a word that drifted into the focus of my attention one afternoon.  But maybe it's also possible that simple words and postures like tenderness and kindness hold the key to our future as a human race.  And if that's the case, then I'd like to suggest that we might start a return to tenderness by simply paying attention to the tender places that reveal themselves right in the middle of our daily lives.
The next time you feel the impulse to lash out at your spouse or that faceless troll online, it might be worth it to pause a moment or two to palpitate around in the depths of your being.  Gently ask yourself, "Is that tender?"  Or maybe, simply begin by paying attention to the way the people around you limp - emotionally, spiritually, physically - and spend some time daydreaming about what it would take to create a space where tenderness births an environment where real healing and recovery can begin.

A Journey of Suffering and Hope

During this Advent and Christmas season as we anticipate and celebrate the birth of Jesus, someone somewhere is dealing with the death of a loved one, with a miscarriage, with a painful job termination, an ongoing mental or physical illness, or some other situation that brings deep suffering, that causes them to wrestle with God’s role in all that they are going through. [ ...] Read More ›

The Greatest Love Story Ever Told

This is the first week of Advent, the season where we anticipate the coming of Christ. It’s a time to hear and enter into the story of how Jesus came out of love to give his life for us. This grand love story of Christmas taps into a deep intuition we have about the centrality of love. We possess an inexplicable knowledge that if life has any meaning, it must have something to do with love. One could argue that all of our intuitions about morality and the meaning of life are at root an intuition about the supremacy of love. [...] The post The Greatest Love Story Ever Told appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Hope and Perseverance in Post-Election America

It’s been harder than usual to focus on words this past week. As I searched for words, I also walked, reviewing and reflecting upon the sights and sounds in my world since the election. Sights   Sounds For several weeks, I have looked forward to seeing Krista Tippett and Courtney Martin again, two friends I met through my work at the Fetzer Institute. I was invited to attend Courtney’s Minneapolis book launch for The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream. […]
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