Rev. Kit B. Billings
June 13, 2004
This week our nation mourns the loss of two highly respected men: Ronald Reagan and Ray Charles. Both of these American sons have touched millions of lives in positive ways, people all over our planet. While the people of Earth now mourn their loss, I deeply sense that the people of Heaven are rejoicing—not because of our pain but because of two bright new souls they now are receiving.
Ray Charles has been one of the beautifully shining lights within the entertainment field, an irrepressible spirit, one who exuded a beautifully positive self-image. He illustrated to me that no matter how great one's handicaps or limitations, we human beings, we children of God, can enjoy our uniqueness and the rivers of life pouring forth from our inner being, which God sends from His love. I loved Ray Charles because he was a man who wasn't afraid to let his love, his life, his feelings show in his voice and his body language.
Also this week, our nation lost another very special man, one who helped our nation rediscover our pride and dignity, Ronald Reagan. This week I have felt so deeply and wonderfully moved by the expression of love and respect given to our 40th President. Dignitaries from around the world, friends and relatives, thousands of supporters, Mr. Reagan's own pastor, his special wife and children, and our nation's finest military personnel came together to honor Ronal Reagan after his death due to the ravages of Alzheimer's Disease. The coverage was supreme, although there were a few personal moments involving Nancy's grief that I felt should never have been aired publicly, and the experience of hearing those reporter's cameras shooting away during those profoundly private moments jarred me to the bone. Clearly, the news media has, in certain respects, given in to the temptations of evil and darkness, and I pray that their sensibilities may one day be restored.
However, with that said, it felt very good to observe through excellent coverage the weeklong goodbye to President Reagan. In conversations with some of you this week, I have felt deeply blessed to hear what special aspects of Mr. Reagan's funeral proceedings and memorializing touched and blessed you deeply. Personally, I was particularly moved by the tremendous and oceanic love displayed from Nancy Reagan toward her husband—it's wonderful to see real marital love out in the open like that, not to mention so much great love and support toward Mrs. Reagan from many thousands of Americans during her time of grief. The wonderful speeches given by the President's three children were another special highlight for me, which let us in on more of the lovely details that made up the personality of our nation's 40th President. It delights me to no end to learn that Ronald Reagan is an “earlobe worker,” one who just loved to feel and enjoy one of the softest parts of the human body—our earlobes.
I was touched by the precision and grandeur of the soldiers who carried his casket, and the immensely beautiful music played by several different bands, whose notes and melodies reached right down into my soul, for which I am so thankful. And lastly, I was in awe Friday morning of the beautiful explosion of golden light God gave in Simi Valley given by the sunset. The “great communicator” was given the most glorious send off as his wife and family were bathed in the most wonderful correspondence of God's infinitely beautiful and holy Love and Light, which shines upon us all. That sunset was a fitting tribute to the love so many feel for him as his earth-journey ends and his spiritual world one begins. Clearly Ronald Reagan was a man with imperfections, and there were some serious mistakes made in his presidency. But he was a real gentleman who cared deeply for many people and also his country.
At one point during Mr. Reagan's funeral proceedings I leaned toward one of our parishioners and said, “You know, it's too bad that such grandeur and honor is not given to the millions of other very good and useful Americans whose lives have also blessed and benefited others.” The thought rose up into my mind this week that the memorial and funeral services we give to one another are a stark reminder that so many of us are deeply and spiritually loved in this world.
Yet these services are just one of thousands of ways that love and is communicated to us, aren't they?
Think of all the many, many ways just within this past month that love and support have been communicated to you. Perhaps from some special phone calls, letters, a gift, prayers offered on your behalf, the light on another person's eyes shining toward you, the feelings you are receiving when being in worship on Sundays, or the precious words from God in the Bible that touched your heart in a special way. There are so many ways that the Lord works to reach us with His love for us, which comes through myriad ways of channels and avenues.
Why, you may wonder? Why is there so much love pouring toward you in all of these ways? Because, my friends, God has been at work in many creative ways to try to get an extremely important truth across to you—YOU are His Beloved. You are God's cherished and chosen one.
The Lord's Word makes is beautifully and plainly clear that you are the Lord's Beloved, and long ago you were given a title of honor. Long before you were even created in the Mind of God and conceived within your mother's womb, you were with the Lord from the beginning—held, loved, cherished by God within His infinite love and hope in you.
In his great, yet powerfully simple to read, work titled, Life of The Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World, Henri J.M. Nouwen, acclaimed Catholic priest, author and spiritual guide to many (who is already there in Heaven to greet Reagan and Ray Charles) wrote about the most important spiritual issue in his many years of living. Nouwen learned that spiritual living needs to begin with this core truth of life, that we each are God's Beloved. The story of Jesus being baptized in the Jordan by John the Baptist and then coming up out of the water and hearing God's voice saying, “You are my Son, the Beloved; my favor rests upon you” is the essence of Nouwen's thesis and belief.
As my spiritual hero put it so well in this book, there is a revelation about “…the most intimate truth about all human beings, whether they belong to any particular tradition or not. 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.'
And Rev. Nouwen went on to write:
Yes, there is that voice, the voice that speaks from above and from within and that whispers softly or declares loudly: “You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests.” It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: “You are no good, you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable, you are nobody—unless you can demonstrate the opposite.
Henri Nouwen discovered that the message we hear this morning from Christ to you and I in John's Gospel is the core starting place for spiritual living, which connects deeply and powerfully with the perspective of the New Church to be sure. As the prophets of old were inspired to preach, and then as God Incarnate delivered so well, each of us individually are the “chosen.” In essence, we have been with God from the beginning, a twinkle in God's eye you might say. And then the Lord Himself forms you in His love within your mother's womb and knits you together with grace. Life is so deeply transformed when one takes courage to begin to hear and start to internalize this truth.
But to be sure, for most if not all of us, this core spiritual reality and truth is very, very hard to keep near one's heart and mind for very long. Why? Because there is a conspiracy in our world against this core, basic truth of life. The Lord spoke to it in our lesson this morning, in John's 15th chapter, as He said that He chose You first, long before you chose Him…and, that because of this the world will hate you, because the presence of the hells in life hate God most of all. And so, in truth, the hells hate you too. They may pretend that they love you, but the truth is, they hate you, and want to destroy your spiritual peace and happiness.
And so, as Henri Nouwen wrote, the forces that express that you're just not good enough work their wiles to convince you to reject your self. At some deep, pervasive level, we are told from various societal and personal experiences that we are not worthwhile enough nor pretty or handsome enough, nor talented enough, nor gifted enough to warrant God's love and esteem. And this pulls us in the direction of SELF-REJECTION. And with our self-rejection comes feelings of anger, disquietness, lack of dignity, inordinate competition, the love of gossiping of others to denigrate them below myself, and the list goes on. And all of this pushes so many of us to feel we need to overachieve.
Deep within one's own mind the question can easily remain: “If all those who shower me with so much attention could see me and know me in my innermost self, would they still love me?” We may have that nagging question rooted within our shadow selfhood, which keeps persecuting us, inspiring us to run away from the very place where that quiet voice calls us from deep inside, that truly we are His “Beloved.” The shadow world wants us to continually prove our core self-worth, but the Lord knows the reality of things. God from the beginning has called you by name, and speaks so softly and tenderly to your heart these precious words:
“You are mine, and I am yours. You are my Beloved, on you my favor rests. I have carved you in the palm of My hand and hidden you in the shadow of My embrace. I look at you with infinite tenderness, and care for you with a care more intimate than that of a mother for her child. I have counted every hair on your head and guided you at every step. Wherever you go, I go with you, and wherever you rest, I keep watch. Nothing will ever separate us. We are one.”
Given the immensity of opposing forces and voices to your Belovedness, it can take a lifetime sometimes to slowly allow these spiritual truths to sift though the daily clamor of life. But for real my friends, the work and journey of this is profoundly worthwhile. May your healing and internalizing go well.