Perhaps like many of you, I grew up in a small church where I routinely heard, God loves you. And if I’m being honest, I thought, that’s nice. I don’t really know what that means for my life. And I wouldn’t really until this past year, when I went to seminary.
The shift was very subtle. Just two letters actually. B and e, added to loved. Beloved. A lot of my work is writing and communicating the stories of the climate movement. I love words, their shape, sound, and meaning. And there is just something about beloved that gets right to my core, far more than love or loved ever had.
I’ve been trying to sort out why that is. And something about it is that love seemed to be something that happened to you. Where as beloved, is both the truth of who we are, and a way of being. Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest writes in his book Life of the Beloved that “from the moment we claim the truth of being the beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are. Becoming the beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make.”1
So all at once, beloved is both who we are, and who we are called to become. It’s not just that God loves us, it is that we are the beloved. But belovedness isn’t a credential on a resume, not a certification course you can take and then check off the list. As Nouwen says, belovedness is the very core of who we are, and we are called to live every more deeply into that belovedness.
You might be thinking: loved, beloved what’s the difference? And why does any of this matter? Especially as justice seeking people, what does this mean for the world we seek?
First, what is inherent in being God’s beloved is that all of God’s creation is beloved. I can’t name my own belovedness, without in turn naming yours. I am not beloved because of any special things I did. Belovedness is grace, given freely to us all. I am because we are, and we are beloved.
Embracing the truth of our belovedness isn’t a flowery, feel good gesture, it is a radical act. The Beguine women knew this well. The Beguines were a lay religious group in late 12th-mid 14th centuries in Northern Europe.2 The theology they developed was rooted in their identity as God’s beloved which allowed them to “trust the truth of their own experience and engage in public theological discourse.”3 They saw themselves primarily as God’s beloved, with God’s love and being coursing through their veins, a part of their very being. In naming their belovedness, they named their power and asserted their self determination against the hegemonic powers of their day.
Naming our belovedness tells a new story that directly subverts the story of the domination and oppression. Belovedness is the birthright and truth of every being, of all of creation. This is especially powerful for those of us with oppressed identities. Black Lives Matter. Yes, and more than that, Black Lives are Beloved, worthy, beautiful, infused with the image of God. Queer Lives are Beloved. Indigenous Lives are Beloved. Differently Abled Lives are Beloved. You, dear one, are beloved.
Affirming our belovedness makes social transformation possible. When we know ourselves as beloved, we know ourselves as the loving, justice-making creatures God intends us. That realization calls us into the holy work of social transformation. We cannot work for wholeness and justice in the world when we deny our own belovedness. It’s damaging to our very souls, and cuts us off from our source, our connection to the divine and all of creation.
If we think we can deny the truth of truth of our belovedness, just listen to our psalmist, “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
Our belovedness comes from being creatures of God. As the psalmist asks “where can I go from your spirit?” They find no answers. Everywhere we can go, every corner of creation is suffused with the spirit of God. All of creation is God’s and is beloved. We cannot flee from God. Just as God is in creation God is also within each of us.
The psalmist goes on “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place; when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.”
There’s so much here. First, these two references to God forming us, knitting us in our mother's womb, in the depths of the earth. For me this reinforces the notion that as much as we are of God, we are also of the earth, and that the earth is beloved. God’s belovedness can be found throughout creation, and in and through creation we are formed, beloved.
Second, we praise God because we are fearfully and wonderfully made. Belovedness is wonderful, pure, and true. For me it’s often also frightening. I am beloved, I am a child of God put on this beloved creation at this distinct moment in time in human history, when we face a crisis like none ever before, poised on the brink of inhabitability for the human species. What then does it mean for me to be who God made me to be, how do I fully live into my belovedness? What is uniquely and urgently mine to do on this earth?
As I hope you can hear, the fear in that is also the wonder and the joy. What does it mean for me to be alive at this time? What does it mean for you to be you, utterly beloved, full of promise and skills and gifts that only you, truly only you can give to this world? The fear is only in that we will not have the strength or courage to answer. And yet again, beloved is where we begin, it is our very being, and our source for the sacred work that is ours to do.
When we source our work for social transformation from an abiding sense of our own belovedness, we are able to fully honor the belovedness of others, and together birth ourselves and the world anew.
You’ve probably heard this quote before, from author Marianne Williamson, who says “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” What’s really interesting is that for many people, maybe it’s true for you, is that it’s easier to accept that other people are beloved, than to accept that we ourselves are beloved. Perhaps too we are afraid of our own belovedness means for our lives. It might seem easier to hide from the truth of who we are but as our psalmist, and poet Jan Richardson remind us, insistent voices continue to whisper the truth of who we are: beloved.
We are called to be and become, ever more deeply, the beloved. When we do, we don’t stay curled up in our homes, in comfort, resting assured. No belovedness does the very opposite, it sends us out into the world to reclaim and renew the belovedness of all beings. Theologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda writes, "It seems that the love to which Jesus calls us emerges from a way of perceiving the world and of being in it, as well as a way of acting and feeling in response to it. It is the perception that the neighbor bears infinite worth and is irrevocably beloved by God; she or he is, before all else, a creature beloved by God.”4
So my challenge for you today is to see yourself and every being you encounter as God’s beloved. One of my spiritual practices is to see each person as a landscape, because when I look out at the ocean or a mountain or a forest I not only see the richness and beauty of God’s creation I am overwhelmed with a knowing that the world is beloved. And so in the morning I do my best to remind myself: Everyone I meet today is a landscape, within each of them lives a universe of experience, joy, and struggle. They are crevices and canyons and folds, where living waters flow and forests are born. God, help me to see and honor the wholeness of who they are, and who you are in and through them.
Beloved is where we begin. It is who we are, it is who we are called to be in the world. May you slow down to hear the voices of God swirling around you whispering, you dear one, you are my beloved. May you find the strength and courage to bring the truth of your belovedness fully to the world. Amen
1. Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen, 2002.
2. Theologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda discuss the Beguines in her book, Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, 2013.
3. From the Beguine women, quote by Cynthia Moe-Lobeda
4. Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, by Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, 2013.
Claire Curran is Communications and Outreach Manager at Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light. Claire received her BA from Gustavus Adolphus College where she studied Religion and Peace Studies. She is also a dancer and company member at One Dance Company in St. Paul. Claire is pursuing her M.Div. with a concentration in Social Transformation at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities.