Surrender your poverty and acknowledge your nothingness to the Lord. Whether you understand it or not, God loves you, is present in you, lives in you, dwells in you, calls you, saves you and offers you an understanding and compassion which are like nothing you have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon. – Thomas Merton
I read this quote in Brennan Manning’s book Abba’s Child. This book is a great reflection on what it means to live in an open and honest relationship with God. Manning encourages the reader to remove those mask and barriers that we place before ourselves and others as we often try and pretend to be that which we are not. Manning’s book is a call to Christians to lay aside shame and guilt and embrace our belovedness.
Manning writes, “God loves who we really are –whether we like it or not… No amount of spiritual make-up can render us more presentable to God.” One of the great challenges of living a faithful baptismal witness is coming to grips with the notion that we are loved by God. While we embrace the call to love others, we often quietly have problems loving ourselves.
This Sunday I will baptise a young child named Ryan. No doubt his family and friends are excited for this big moment in his life. Preparations have been made, and all that’s left now is to wait for that special moment when Ryan will be welcomed into the household of God at his baptism. In all baptisms the community of faith, in this case St. Aidan’s Church, will at one point stand and its members will reaffirm their baptismal covenants. In affirming our covenant we will all say that we will ‘seek and serve Christ in all persons, and love our neighbour as ourselves.’ The baptismal liturgy is a moment for us to remember that we must be able to love ourselves in order to love others.
There is another beautiful moment in the liturgy which serves as a critical reminder of whose we are and of how very much we are beloved. Immediately after Ryan is baptised in the name of the Triune God, the celebrant will take oils of Chrism and Mark his forehead using these words; “I sign you with the sign of the cross, and I mark you as Christ own forever.” How wonderful that as we baptise this child we will be reminded that God will be with him in the midst of all things that he will face in life. God will see him through joyous times as well as through times of difficulty and trial. It also serves as a reminder that we are signed with the sign of the cross. God has been with us through thick and thin. It is a beautiful and an awesome gift from God. There have been many times in my life where I have turned my back on God. But God has never turned God’s back on me. When I have returned, God’s posture has always been open and welcoming. It is a reassuring promise that God will never abandon the covenant made with me in baptism.
There are many voices that work hard to remind us of our shortcomings. Those voices which tell us that we aren’t attractive enough, wealthy enough, influential enough, powerful enough, or ‘anything else’ carry too much weight. To hear the voice of the One who affirms us, redeems us, forgives us, and embraces us we need to find refuge from the noise of judgement that lives in the world around us. If we can put aside those loud voices and listen for the still small voice of Love we will be reminded that we are indeed precious. We are indeed beloved. It is tempting to buy into the image that others have painted for us. But God loves you and me for who we are and not who others think we are. Manning reassures his readers with these words – “While the impostor draws his identity from past achievements and the adulation of others, the true self claims identity in its belovedness. We encounter God in the ordinariness of life: not in the search for spiritual highs and extraordinary, mystical experiences but in our simple presence in life.” God is at work loving us in the ordinariness of our lives.
We will come to a greater sense of accepting our baptismal call to live and love and heal others, once we have come to understand our own woundedness. No doubt, one of the ways that we will influence a spirit of hope and renewal in the church will be by offering a honest glimpse of ourselves to those with whom we minister. Each of us can help set another free by offering our own ministry from our own place of brokenness. Ministering from a place of superiority has not served the church well. But embracing our brokenness, living out of our woundedness in communion with other members of the body of Christ has been life-giving and productive for the church. In bearing witness to how God can love us in our ordinary and sometimes bumpy journey we may help others come to accept their own belovedness. In this way we will fulfil the baptismal promise to ‘strive for the dignity of every human being.’
I pray that as we baptise Ryan on Sunday, we pray for the courage to hear the Spirit hover over the waters of baptism declaring how beloved he is, and how beloved we are! I pray that Ryan always know that God journeys with him. I pray that each member of our church be reminded that God journeys with us.
So whatever our poverty may be; insecurity, lack of material wealth, addiction, low self esteem, loneliness, we have to surrender it and understand whose we are. ‘Whether we understand it or not, God loves us, is present in us, lives in us, dwells in us, calls us, saves us and offers us an understanding and compassion which are like nothing we have ever found in a book or heard in a sermon.’ That is Good News indeed!