Beloved

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

These words from Mary Oliver’s poem, The Summer Day, dwell with me this morning. They guide my thoughts and capture my attention as I sit, coffee in hand, absorbing one of the few remaining sunlit days we will see before once again being swallowed by wintertime cloud.

On Sunday night I preached on vocation at St. Brigids, the congregation where I serve as community developer. St. Brigids is a two-ish years old congregation of Vancouver’s Christ Church Anglican Cathedral. It’s the congregation I call home. This Sunday was “Vocations Sunday” in the diocese, meant to bring attention to (and no doubt recruit folks towards) the vocational diaconate and priesthood.

Why they had me preach, I’m not sure. I am neither deacon nor priest.

But I am a Christian. I am someone who takes seriously Jesus’ call to join his movement. And because of that, I have a few thoughts on what that means for us ordinary Christian folk. Those thoughts extend to those called to serve God and God’s people in the vocations of deacons, pastors, priests, or bishops.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. For each of us, our vocation is not something that starts when we are ordained to an official ministry in the church.

It starts from before the beginning of the world in God’s self-giving love. It’s revealed in the foundational gift of our baptism.

For each of us, our vocation is rooted in God, and our identity as God’s beloved.

Vocation starts in God’s grace extended to us, our acceptance of that grace, a grace we are called to steward. Our vocation is one of worship, and extending that grace even more broadly in the world. It’s a grace we are called to extend in all of our spheres of influence – in our home life, at work and at school, in our civic life, and in the Christian community.

We are God’s beloved, called to acknowledge that belovedness in ourselves, and to help reveal that belovedness in one another.

Sometimes I find it hard. Sometimes I struggle to accept God’s lifegiving word of love and welcome. Truth be told, I struggle to accept the notion of my own belovedness most of the time.

There is much within me and around me that tells me I am not beloved, telling me instead that I am less than and unworthy of love.

But there’s a story that brings me back. It’s a story I don’t share often, but shared on Sunday night in my homily.

I was young, maybe five or six. A vision. A dream. Everything is black. As I open my eyes, I am walking through a forest. Trees towering above me, a ridge before me. The sun comes out from behind the clouds, dancing, sparkling, drawing me up and over the hill, and through the grove on the other side. I stumble. I run towards the light. As I enter the valley, the sun flares again, and I hear a voice

“You are my child, my beloved. In you I am well pleased.”

And that’s it. That’s all I remember. Suddenly I’m awake. But that vision remains a signpost.

When paralysing shame and self-hatred bubbles up, leaving me incapable of motion, this signpost appears. It reminds me of something I’ve forgotten. It’s something to lean on when I can’t get back on my feet on my own.

Last night during my congregation’s monthly Contemplative Prayer gathering, these words, read from Psalm 51 particularly struck me:

You desire truth in the inward being;
   therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

These were words that spoke to my heart. This is the truth I desire as well. I desire to know the truth of my belovedness. But this is not something I want to know propositionally. I need to know it in my whole self. In my heart, in my hands, my whole self.

Every now and again I get that glimpse. Every now and again I experience a trace of that reality. Every now and again, this truth permeates my inward being.

In those moments, I know. I know that I am beloved, and that God’s call to me is to help point to, or reveal, that same belovedness in others.

And maybe, just maybe, this is one piece of my vocation. Maybe this is one of the things I am being called to do with this one, wild, and precious life.

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

Andrew serves on staff at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC as Director of Ministry Innovation, with primary responsibility for St. Brigids, an emerging Christian community where questions are honoured, faith is nurtured, and discipleship pursued.
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2 Responses to “Beloved”

  1. Blair Bertrand

    Thanks for these thoughts. I too am drawn to those lines in Psalm 51. In doing some research recently (I preached on that Psalm) I discovered that those lines in particular are hard to translate. There is confusion about what it means which I think is a bit poetic considering the confusion that usually accompanies any knowledge of self. The objective love finding a subjective home in our hearts is a great and wonderful mystery to inhabit.

    Reply
    • Andrew Stephens-Rennie

      Thanks Blair – I’m intrigued by the idea that those lines are particularly hard to translate, for some of the reasons you list. Self-knowledge is so elusive and mysterious, and the glimpses of capital-T truth so fleeting.

      For my own part, I find the mystery both exhilarating and hard to bear as someone who wants everything locked in – even when such things are perhaps not possible.

      Reply

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