Tag Archives: belovedness

Letting love in: Mary the beloved leads us

The Annunciation — Henry Ossawa Tanner

On the second Sunday of Advent, Hallowood Institute provided some space for clients and friends to prepare a room for the Lord, to welcome love in. We created space to follow the full arc of Mary’s journey of receiving the angel’s message to entering into the fullness of God’s grace. She moved from doubting her belovedness to confidence in it, from “How can this be?” to the Magnificat. Here is an outline you might like to use to follow her example. I know it can’t really replicate everything that happened, but it might help you stay on the Advent journey.

The Annunciation of a Woman — Harmonia Rosales

First movement:  Doubts about our belovedness

Mary pays attention to the word coming to her and to the doubts it arouses. She listens to her body and to the thoughts that automatically come to her mind.

In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth,  to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary.  And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be.  And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.  And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” — Luke 1:26-34

When our “angel” comes to us we, like Mary, probably ask, “How can this be?” We doubt God can or would come to us. We doubt we could be important. We doubt we could be worthy. We doubt we could be loved.  We need to go through a process to let love in, to become the beloved of God we are.

Our brains and the rest of our bodies are accustomed to patterns that have defended us from not getting the love we crave and defended many of us from further abuse and disrespect. Our brains are rutted with programs of self-protection that don’t meet our needs and don’t protect us any longer. Our bodies have memories of trauma and fear that cause us to keep reacting in certain ways.

Mary was afraid when God came to her in the angel and doubted she could be part of the wonderful future he promised.

During our retreat we worked a little on getting our left and right brain to integrate. We found a place in ourselves of safety where we could return when we felt afraid. We created a container in our imagination where we could store intrusive thoughts that invaded our meditation.

Then we tried to welcome our doubting parts — the voices that tell us we are not loved. Maybe you would like to try it. Picture a time when you doubted you were loved or even lovable.  What makes you doubt you are loved? Is there an event from your past (distant or near past) that captures the feelings of this doubt? Put it into words. Then, if you can, float back to being 14 years old with Mary. Picture yourself at about that age. Identify the negative beliefs about yourself that go with this doubting picture. Write them out.

The Castello Annunciation by Sandro Botticelli

Second Movement:  Mary lets love in to talk back to her view of self

Mary turns from her former view of self and attends to the new life she is being given.

And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”  

And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. — Luke 1:35-38

The various depictions of the annunciation tell different stories. The one above shows the second movement we are exploring as Mary shies away from this angel. Is she saying, “Don’t bother me I am trying to read the Bible?” Or is it, more likely “What do you mean ‘nothing is impossible with God?’ I feel quite impossible myself?” The process of moving from doubts about “For nothing will be impossible with God” to “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” is what we were exploring. It takes a process to see ourselves as the beloved of God, to turn away from other views of ourselves and turn into that one.

From Henri Nouwen in Life of the Beloved:

I am putting this so directly and so simply because, though the experience of being the Beloved has never been completely absent from my life, I never claimed it as my core truth. I kept running around it in large or small circles, always looking for someone or something able to convince me of my Belovedness. It was as if I kept refusing to hear the voice that speaks from the very depth of my being and says: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” That voice has always been there, but it seems that I was much more eager to listen to other, louder voices saying: “Prove that you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular, or powerful, and then you will earn the love you so desire.” Meanwhile, the soft, gentle voice that speaks in the silence and solitude of my heart remained unheard or, at least, unconvincing….

Try this exercise to name those different “voices” competing to speak the loudest to you. Find a negative view of self that comes up in you. Do not collect all the views you can think of, just one. It might be as simple as when you look in the mirror and you go right to the body part you don’t like like: “too fat” or “bad hair.” But the voices can come from a deeper place: “I don’t deserve to feel good. Someone will discover what I am really like. You are all alone” — even “No one loves you or wants you.” Once we start listening, these often become quite clear as voices competing for our attention. Naming them does not feel good, but it begins to loosen their power on us.

Turn into a positive view of self:  “I am the kind of person who tries to grow” or “I have a very good grandmother” or “I see how I have good choices I can  make.” The big one is, “I am the beloved of God.” Nouwen talks about Listening to the gentle voice of God with great inner attentiveness. That attention makes the “angelic” voice surer and our true selves more obvious. Depriving the other voices of attention makes them weaker, fainter — “I can’t hear you!”

Painting in the Church of El Sitio, Suchitoto, El Salvador

Third Movement: Mary receives validation from Elizabeth

Mary welcomes support to face her fears and enter into her context with confidence.

In those days Mary arose and went with haste into the hill country, to a town in Judah, and she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. And when Elizabeth heard the greeting of Mary, the baby leaped in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit, and she exclaimed with a loud cry, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!  And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For behold, when the sound of your greeting came to my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her from the Lord.” — Luke 1:39-45

Recent scholarship on healing from identity wounds based in trauma says, “Radical healing involves being or becoming whole in the face of identity-based ‘wounds,’ which are the injuries sustained because of our membership in an oppressed racial or ethnic group.”

We acknowledged how our spiritual journeys differ because of our racist and sexist culture. For some of us, the wisdom of our communities has been deeply damaged by racist practices. Some of us have experiences of both healing and trauma from our interactions with our communities, in our neighborhoods and families, in our interactions with systemic violence, in our churches.

Mary experienced isolation and rejection as her story became known.  She and her young family had to flee oppression and slaughter based in part on race.  In this part of Mary’s story, she seeks much needed validation — even though she has spoken with an angel and knows she is pregnant by the Holy Spirit.  The encounter with Elizabeth validates what she knows inside, what her body is certainly telling her.

Take some time to consider your own journeys and where such validation may emerge for you. Note a few aggressions you have experienced recently.  Gwen’s was “The invisibility I often feel as a woman in leadership positions, or when I am left out, like when my husband got an email that should have also been addressed to me.”

Now consider how you responded to these aggressions. In your childhood were there any practices that you found comforting when faced with hurts — cultural practices or personal practices? What current social networks/systems are offering you support? Where do you feel empowered as Elizabeth empowered Mary? Are there ways you might help create further spaces where you can find this social support?   Notice what’s coming up in your body right now as you consider aggression. Deep breath and long exhale.

We need to meet our Elizabeths.  To listen to them and receive their love and encouragement, even though we already know that the life of Christ is growing in us.

Magnificat by Sister Mary Grace Thul

Fourth Movement: Mary takes her place as the beloved with her “Magnificat”

We created a final space to follow the full arc of Mary’s journey in Belovedness. She moves from doubting her belovedness to confidence in it, from “How can this be?”  to the Magnificat. In her prayer, Mary owns her belovedness and acts out of it.

And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”

And Mary remained with her about three months and returned to her home. — Luke 1:46-56

I was inspired to own my belovedness by Osheta Moore’s Dear White Peacemakers earlier this year. Both Mary and Osheta Moore show their beloved selves in their context, in their families, and in their societies. And they both speak out of this belovedness, claiming their birthright to be the beloved of God, sent with reconciliation into their own space. I actually got in a little trouble with my some people when I quoted Moore teaching that being beloved is where the Lord starts when he calls for truth and justice. It’s a radical and important principle. As beloved is how we should see ourselves and others, even those nazi-like guys who paraded through the Lincoln Memorial the night before our retreat. Even in the battle against white supremacy and the scrourge of racism, we lose our cause if we lose our souls by not seeing ourselves as beloved of God and not insisting that everyone is a potential member of the beloved community.

Osheta Moore is keeping it radical and I am with her. Here is a bit of what she says in Dear White Peacemakers

Jesus says that in this world we will have trouble, but to take heart, for he has overcome the world. He did this by first owning his Belovedness and then proclaiming it to every single person he met. His Belovedness empowered him to challenge societal hierarchies based on fear of the other, offer relief to those who have been oppressed, and eventually to sacrificially love on the cross. When you are grounded in something other than your work or results, when you are grounded in a truer, deeper, soul-healing confidence, you can continue to press on—even if it means death to all your comforts and control. This is your calling when trouble comes as you practice anti-racism….[O]wn your Belovedness so that you can proclaim mine. Belovedness is like a flowing river of renewal and justice. It allows us to challenge systems and have difficult conversations. It moves us from individualism into community.

Many of us wrote moving, personal “magnificats” of our own, to take a stand as the beloved of  God, to affirm we are letting love in — and out.

Mary’s prayer is called “the magnificat” because the first line of it in Latin is “Magníficat ánima mea Dóminum” — in English, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Familiar prayers have often been known by their first word.

Try writing a prayer of your own. Write it for God, not for anyone else. You could use Mary’s prayer as a model. Better, use the spirit of what she is doing as a guide. She is pulling together the most meaningful thoughts she has into a song of belonging to the Beloved, graced with wonderful things going on inside her. She sees amazing opportunities to offer love to the world.

Our own magnificats sum up the whole process of letting love in. When it is time for you  to speak yours, what have you overcome? what are you standing up against?  When you say, “This is who I am, this is how God sees me, this is what I am for, this is what I intend to do, this is what I hope, this is what my truth in Christ is,” etc., what competes for that view of yourself? It could be your own family, government systems, or oil companies; the list goes on.

What do you say? If it is just: “I am the beloved of God, there’s nothing you can do about it. It is what it is.” That is good enough. That’s a short magnificat I am using this Advent as Jesus is newly born in me in this new era of the world being born.

Osheta Moore: When White Supremacy runs the stop sign

I had an odd reaction to a frightening situation the other day. The more I think about it, the more of a parable it becomes.

It was simple, actually. I had struggled to pedal up the steep park path adjacent to Ford Rd.  I got back on my bike after walking a bit, still panting. I slowly rode through the crosswalk on Chamonix. The truck I thought was certainly far enough away to see me was coming up to the stop sign. It slowed but apparently intended to run the stop sign, as usual. I yelled. The driver stopped whatever else he was doing and braked in time for me to push myself off his hood. I wobbled over to the far curb, gave a look back and almost toppled onto the sidewalk. I was furious. The driver paused then sped away.

In her book, Dear White Peacemakers Osheta Moore, who will speak more later, quotes a psychologist, Leon F. Seltzer, talking about my initial response:

“When you experience anger, it’s almost impossible not to feel like a victim, for virtually all anger can be understood as a reaction to what feels threatening or unfair to you.” — like when you expect personal care and community spirit to protect you in the sidewalk but someone runs the stop sign. Seltzer goes on, “In such instances, you feel unjustifiably attacked, taken advantage of, betrayed, violated or powerless. And your anger, essentially retaliatory in nature, serves the function of restoring to you a sense of righteousness and control, even dignity and respect.”

It is a steep road to no condemnation

True. We get angry. Then other feelings kick in. After I composed myself, I rode the short way I had left to go and my anger turned to shame. I didn’t want to tell anyone about what happened. They would say, “You should be more careful! (Stop trusting people in any way).” And I thought they might think but not say, “You might be too old to be left alone on a bike.” And one or two might say, “Did you go over and ball the guy out? You just gave him a dirty look from behind your sunglasses?” A religious voice got in there, too, “Why are you upset? You’re fine.” (Or maybe that was my mother).

I had to pause my self-condemnation to shout, basically, “The truck almost killed you!” I had another near-death experience and I condemned myself for not preventing it and for even feeling something about it. I hope you don’t do such things, but I suspect you do.

Parables don’t have morals, but the lesson I get out of this one is, “If the truck almost kills you in the crosswalk, it is not your fault.” I am prone to react as if I should be some god-like being impervious to assault and responsible to prevent evil. I’m not. A lot of Christians think they should never get angry and go directly to the shame. Sometimes I am angry and do not sin by condemning myself for what made me angry.

Osheta Moore helps us get to Beloved

My story and similar stories got applied in various ways this week.

  • If Bill Cosby is released on a technicality it doesn’t mean you lied about what he did to you or your abusers have a right to abuse.
  • If your boss installed self-interested leaders to compete for your power in the office it doesn’t mean you are a terrible executive.
  • If your wife keeps telling you you are a loser, it does not necessarily mean her feelings should be your feelings.
  • And, if you feel like every time you open your mouth about what you think or feel in this polarized society someone is likely to hold you in contempt, that does not put them in charge of your destiny.

“There is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. We are free from the laws of sin and death.”

That last truck brings me back to Osheta Moore. Thanks to the Jesus Collective for introducing us to this interesting new prophet among the many writers who rushed to their keyboards while Derek Chauvin’s case wound its way through the system.  I think she may be the best to blossom from all that sowing.

She is certainly taking on the question, “What does one do when the truck runs the stop sign?” It is a live question for Black and other people of color living under White Supremacy enacted by slave-creating capitalism. That semi’s a proven killer. I hope that truck is becoming a reality which more and more “white” people can see, as well, since it is about to run over their souls every day if they don’t dodge it (or don’t stop driving it!). OK, the parable may be getting a bit too stretched. But we are all threatened by this evil construct. Osheta Moore speaks to the White peacemakers to whom her book is written about the anger and shame associated with it:

“I don’t call anyone racist. I think for too many of you, you have worked hard to heal from toxic self-identities: fat, stupid, ugly, poor, lazy, not enough, too much. I began this book with an exploration of Belovedness and practices to help you settle into your Belovedness because I believe that only when you know you are Beloved – simply because you are human – only from that grounded place can you do anti-racism. If you believe you are a racist or you take on all the emotional, historical, and societal baggage that comes with that word, then you’re prone to unhelpful thought patterns like “I’m the worst” and “What’s the point, I can’t change anything on my own” and “I can’t believe my White pastor, friends, family members are still stuck in racist thinking, thank God I’m not like them.” None of these help you be a peacemaker.

When I think about your fragility in anti-racism, I choose to think of it as a fear response. Are you like my daughter who uses humor or bravado to deflect? Are you like my middle boy who gets quiet, retreats, and stonewalls? Are you like my oldest who ignores his anxious energy by barreling ahead, running from the trigger?”

Condemning oneself or others or absorbing condemnation will not solve the problem.  Truth in love, yes. (That’s terrifying enough!). Condemnation, no. (Can’t/won’t deal). When the White Supremacy truck threatens to run me over I blame the truck. Even if I was in the way, there was never a good reason not to love me.

We needed Osheta’s book a long time ago

I wish Osheta Moore had written her book a long time ago. I wish Gerry West and I had written it (Gerry was Circle of Hope’s first Black pastor in 1997). We were writing in terms of white repentance and black forgiveness as a way into reconciliation. We couldn’t see the way into community without those rare actions. We were probably too focused on relationships when the real truck was the system. I wish the CERJ group I trained with had written it (Christians Enacting Reconciliation and Justice); they were mediators and negotiators, Black, Hispanic, Korean and White. We might have been too focused on technique when we needed mercy. I wish the Damascus Road trainers had written it: the Mennonite trainers and consultants who pioneered anti-racism awareness and deeply influenced our foundation as an anti-racist church. They were probably too focused on curriculum and filled with good, old middle PA shame. We’ve all grown a lot over the years. When Gwen and I first named our conviction anti-racism, we usually quickly added, “That’s a project we will probably die trying to complete.”

Members of Patriot Front, a white supremacist group, marched through Center City late Saturday into early Sunday morning looking for recruits.

And here we go. Donald Trump is still unleashing a powerful defense of the White Supremacy on which the U.S. is founded and with which we are all infected, even the Beloved Community, the church. Osheta Moore stares right back at it, standing on the Sermon on the Mount and teaching its third way between the polarities of the world:

“Jesus teaches that those who try to save their lives will lose them and those who live by the sword will die by the sword. Anti-racism peacemaking is an invitation to interrogate your defenses, know your fear responses, and respond with nonviolence. White peacemaker, my prayer is you’ll do this nonviolent work within yourself, first by calling yourself a Beloved and then by acknowledging your fragility. Fragility needs to be an idea that’s neutralized. We all have our fragilities….

What would it be like to know, White Peacemaker, that you have emotional tools and reserve to attend to all the uncomfortable feelings that anti-racism brings up? You see, of all the most grounded and generous White Peacemakers I’ve encountered, they have all done one thing: they have, through therapy, dialogue, spiritual direction, meditation, and study, embraced self-compassion and cultivated self-awareness. They have practices that center them and have loving accountability. They’ve laid down the swords and shields that belong to their inner critic and inner skeptic. They’re not thinking of anti-racism as a battle; they are anti-racism peacemakers who engage with curiosity and mercy.”

That’s good theology and generous relating! I still think standing with Jesus grounded in the Sermon on the Mount is the best hope I can offer the world. Being and building the Beloved Community and pushing into the darkness with light together is the deep, deep work the church does in alliance with everyone about to get run over and with anyone ashamed of how meager their resources appeared when death rolled up.