At CAUMC small group tonight, we read a portion of the "Blessed" section of Henri Nouwen's Life of the Beloved
For me, personally, prayer becomes more and more a way to listen to the blessing. I have read and written much about prayer, but when I go to a quiet place to pray, I realize that, although I have a tendency to say many things to God, the real "work" of prayer is to become silent and listen to the voice that says good things about me. This might sound self-indulgent, but, in practice, it is a hard discipline. [...] To gently push aside and silence the many voices that question my goodness and to trust that I will hear a voice of blessing --- that demands real effort. [...] It is not easy to enter the silence and reach beyond the many boisterous and demanding voices of our world and to discover there the small intimate voice saying: "You are my Beloved Child, on you my favor rests." [...] Often you will feel that nothing happens in your prayer. You say: "I am just sitting there and getting distracted." But if you develop the discipline of spending one half-hour a day listening to the voice of love, you will gradually discover that something is happening of which you were not even conscious. It might be only in retrospect that you discover the voice that blesses you.
I was really struck by the idea of silent prayer as listening to the voice of love
. I'm familiar with the idea of listening to/for God during silent prayer, but I usually think of that as listening for God to tell you something, but of course just being in the Presence
is valuable, and sometimes what God most wants to tell us is that we are Beloved. (One could argue that what God always
most wants to tell us is that we are Beloved.)
My second suggestion for claiming your blessedness is the cultivation of presence. By presence I mean attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day, year after year. The problem of modern living is that we are too busy --- looking for affirmation in the wrong places? --- to notice that we are blessed. Often, people say good things about us, but we brush them aside with remarks such as, "Oh, don't mention it, forget about it, it's nothing . . ." and so on. These remarks may seem to be expressions of humility, but they are, in fact, signs that we are not truly present to receive the blessings that are given. It is not easy for us busy people, to truly receive a blessing. Perhaps the fact that few people offer a real blessing is the sad result of the absence of people who are willing and able to receive such a blessing. It has become extremely difficult for us to stop, listen, pay attention, and receive gracefully what is offered to us.
I'd been thinking recently about how when people are really grateful to me and I respond by saying that what I did wasn't a big deal, that I diminish their experience, that I implicitly say that the thing I helped them with wasn't a big deal (even though that's not what I mean) and also that in refusing to accept their gratitude I was denying them the ability to give me a gift.
Before concluding these thoughts about our being blessed, I must tell you that claiming your own blessedness always leads to a deep desire to bless others. The characteristic of the blessed ones is that, wherever they go, they always speak words of blessing. It is remarkable how easy it is to bless others, to speak good things to and about them, to call forth their beauty and truth, when you yourself are in touch with your own blessedness. The blessed one always blesses. And people want to be blessed! This is so apparent wherever you go. No one is brought to life through curse, gossip, accusations, or blaming. There is so much of that taking place around us all the time. And it calls forth only darkness, destruction, and death. As the "blessed" ones, we can walk through this world and offer blessings. It doesn't require much effort. It flows naturally from our hearts. When we hear within ourselves the voice calling us by name and blessing us, the darkness no longer distracts us. The voice that calls us the Beloved will give us the words to bless others and reveal to them that they are no less blessed than we.
This last sentence... L. called me last night, feeling really frustrated and overwhelmed and like her life is never going to amount to anything, and I refuse to say things that are definitive statements about the future that I can't actually guarantee (my Honesty Issues, let me show you them), so I just listened sympathetically and supportively, and I know that that's important, but I felt like giving her some actual words would be good, too. I actually lifted that up as my Challenge this week during Affirmations -- to discern words to give to people who are in crisis. She called again tonight (as we were getting ready to leave at the end of group), and I talked more than I had last night, mostly just affirming that yes this is a frustrating situation, but at one point she was saying she was a failure and I said really firmly, "You are not a failure. You as a person, you as a human being, are not a failure. This paper may be a failure, I am willing to concede that possibility, but you are more than the things you have done and not done." Re: "You are more than the things you have done and not done," she said, "You may be one of two people who actually believes that about me," and I said that made me sad about the people she has in her life. I was really grateful that I was able to offer her concrete words of affirmation to hold onto.