*In Henri Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith, he reflects on Jesus’ baptism in Matthew 3:17, when the Spirit descends on him in the form of a dove,
And a voice from heaven said, “And a voice from heaven said, “This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy.”
Nouwen writes that Jesus’ core identity came from this moment of knowing he had his father’s total, lavish acceptance and approval. He goes on to say that the same is true for each of us. We are all God’s beloved children and our core identity – our center – comes from knowing we are God’s beloved and that he is well-pleased with us.
Building on this definition of each of as God’s beloved, Nouwen explains that
I have come to define prayer as listening . . . to the one who calls you the Beloved.
In our noisy, pixelated, distracting world, it’s not easy to listen for the voice of the Beloved. It can be hard to distinguish God’s voice from all the others clamoring for our attention. And once we do listen, it can be just as hard – if not harder – to accept the truth of God’s love for us. That’s why regular, intentional prayer is crucial.
The discipline of prayer is to constantly go back to the truth of who we are [God’s beloved children] and claim it for ourselves . . . We must go back to our first love, back regularly to that of core identity.
According to Nouwen, our acceptance of our belovedness is the journey of our lives – “the origin and fulfillment of life in the Spirit.” Through prayer, we come to understand that God loves us, as we are, in both our “limitations and glory.” God’s voice calling us his beloved silences our self-condemnation and our self-rejection; listening to this voice coming from God – as well as through other people who show us love and acceptance – is what enables us to feel at home in the world.
Living out the truth of our belovedness is another way of saying that Christ is being incarnated in us. As a way to let this truth sink in, Nouwen recommends “The Beloved Prayer,” a three-part, thirty-minute prayer that can be done individually or as part of guided meditation in a group. “The Beloved Prayer” begins with quietly praying the phrase, ‘”Jesus, you are the Beloved,” then moving onto “Jesus, I am the Beloved,” and then concluding with “Jesus, we are all the Beloved.”
For those of us who don’t have thirty minutes in their day or who are building up to longer contemplative prayer sessions, praying one phrase at a time is an option. Follow these steps.
Praying “The Beloved Prayer”
- Find a quiet, still place. You may choose to set a timer if you have a limited amount of time for this practice. Begin to breathe slowly and deeply, relaxing your body and clearing your mind.
- Become aware of God’s presence with you. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your prayer time.
- Choose the phrase that seems to most resonate with you at this moment: Jesus, you are the Beloved; Jesus, I am the Beloved; or Jesus, we are all the Beloved. The last phrase will lead you to meditate on a group of people – perhaps family or friends – the Body of Christ, or on all of God’s creation.
- Begin saying it to yourself, quietly aloud, or only in your head. You may choose to close your eyes. Try to gently merge the rhythm of the phrase with the rhythm of your breathing. Say it slowly, without hurry, until every other thought seems to fall away. As distractions inevitably show up, don’t worry about them. Simply acknowledge them and refocus the words of the prayer.
- If you have not set a timer, you may find your prayer time comes to its natural conclusion. You may feel rested and replete, or you may simply find a bodily demand can no longer be ignored. Come slowly back to your normal awareness and sit for a moment in silence. If you feel led to do so, end with a brief prayer of thanksgiving and a request for continued awareness of God’s presence throughout your day.
You may find that one phrase claims your attention for days or weeks, or you may feel drawn to a different phrase each day. Either way, trust the Holy Spirit to affirm your belovedness and bring you back to that place of core identity.
* Part of my Spiritual Practice of the Month series of posts.**
** Yes, I know. It is practically April! I’m a “9” with a strong “1” wing on the Enneagram and the legalistic part of my soul is simultaneously embarrassed and proud that I’ve snuck in this post just under the wire.
Find me on Instagram at #ravishedbylight
Jesus’ baptism: https://www.ravenfoundation.org/whats-jesus-john-baptist/, original source unknown
Dove image by Gerd Altmann, pixabay