In his little book, Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen writes personally and directly to his good friend Fred, responding to Fred’s desire for Nouwen, a Catholic priest, to write words that could be heard and understood by Fred, a secular Jew, and Fred’s friends. Nouwen begins the book like this:
Ever since you asked me to write for you and your friends about the spiritual life, I have been wondering if there might be one word I would most want you to remember when you finished reading all I wish to say. Over the past year, that special word has gradually emerged from the depths of my own heart. It is the word “Beloved,” and I am convinced that it has been given to me for the sake of you and your friends. Being a Christian, I first learned this word from the story of the baptism of Jesus of Nazareth. “No sooner had Jesus come up out of the water than he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit, like a dove, descending on him. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests on you’” (Matt. 3:16-17; Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22). For many years I had read these words and even reflected upon them in sermons and lectures, but it is only since our talks in New York that they have taken on a meaning far beyond the boundaries of my own tradition. Our many conversations led me to the inner conviction that the words “You are my Beloved” revealed the most intimate truth about all human beings, whether they belong to any particular tradition or not.
Fred, all I want to say to you is “You are the Beloved,” and all I hope is that you can hear these words as spoken to you with all the tenderness and force that love can hold. My only desire is to make these words reverberate in every corner of your being - “You are the Beloved.”
This weekend as we celebrate the Baptism of Jesus, we hear these words which God spoke over his beloved Son as Jesus emerged from the Jordan River. We also hear the words which God speaks over us. God’s love for His creation is so great that He Himself enters it to take on all of humanity’s sin. In His baptism, Jesus assumes all of our sins and carries them all the way to the cross so that, in our baptism and every day after, God can say to you: “You are my daughter...you are my son...the beloved.”
With you in Christ,