In the late 1990s, the late Henri Nouwen gave a series of sermons at the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, California. The title of the series of talks was, “The Life of the Beloved.” (By the way, they are available on YouTube. Search for “The Life of the Beloved (Henri Nouwen, 2011)”.) Nouwen suggests that the voice of God that addressed Jesus at his baptism, saying, “You are my beloved. I’m very pleased with you,” also addresses us. Unfortunately, we live in a very busy and noisy world. We are so preoccupied that we lose touch with who we are, and the chaos within and without drowns out the voice of God. Spiritual disciplines are designed, in part, to help us tune out the world and tune into what God is speaking to our hearts and minds.
Nouwen says that spiritual disciplines are the human effort to create some open space in our lives so that we can hear the voice of God telling us who we truly are, his beloved, treasured, and valued sons and daughters. Nouwen then speaks of three disciplines that help us create this space for God’s voice in our lives. They are communion, community, and ministry.
In communion, we spend a little bit of our time every day, sitting with God in silence, or spending time with God by prayerfully reading the Scriptures. And in this discipline of communion, we hear the voice of God calling us the beloved.
Then, in community, we are gathered together in worship and in fellowship. In that community of faith, we hear the voice of God speaking to us through one another. And isn’t it amazing how God’s voice becomes amplified when it comes to us as the voice of another human being. One would have thought that it would be enough for us to hear God’s voice directly. But it appears that God has so designed human beings that we need to hear God’s word of love and blessing being spoken by a friend, a family member, or a brother and sister in Christ. “You are God’s beloved.”
Finally, in ministry, the people of God are sent out into the world to proclaim the good news of God’s love. And listen to what Nouwen says about the discipline of ministry:
Jesus went to the poor, the sick, the dying, to the little ones. And dear friends, I cannot tell you enough how the final voice that calls you the beloved comes from those you care for. That’s a great mystery I want to tell you…. [Those whom we serve], they are the ones who God has chosen to speak his word of love to us.
Do you remember in the Beatitudes, do you remember what it says? “Blessed are the poor. Blessed are the mourning.” It does not say, “Blessed are those who care for the poor.” It does not say, “Blessed are those who console the mourning.” No, no. The blessing is located in the poor. In these people that we want to help, we will find that they carry the blessing in their heart for us, for us to live. They give us life, they give us a sense of God’s presence. And I want to tell you that they whom we go to minister to are the ones who carry in themselves the blessing. And the blessing is the voice of God, saying, “You are my Beloved. On you my favor rests.” We hear that blessing come to us through those who are weak, through those who are poor. And they will lead us closer and closer to the heart of Love.
That is the great joy I want to announce to you and for you to trust because once you are in deep communion with the poor, you will be able to discover your own poverty, your own weakness, your own brokenness, and not be afraid of it. You will discover, “Yes I am poor too.” When we work with the poor we will become so aware of our own limitations, but the voice of God is saying, “Don’t be afraid because I love you right there where you are poor too.” And so, we become in a way, a fellowship of the weak where the power of God’s grace can manifest itself.
So keep some space for God’s voice. Some space by praying alone. Some space by forming community. Space by going out and going to those people in your own family, your own friends, and in your own city who need you. They don’t just need you because they are needy, they also need you to give to you their blessing.
So, if there is any truth to this. If the poor have a blessing for us, then how can we find ways—individually and as a community—to enter into relationship with them? Because how can they give us their blessing, which is from God, if we don’t seek them out?