I say that baptism reconnects us with our belovedness. We need reconnection because for most of us the connection has been broken.
Picture the self this way. At the core of our being is the inner circle of the "true self," our self as Godís Beloved. But surrounding this inner circle is a series of concentric circles, layers of "false self," so many and so dense that our true self lies deeply buried at the heart of us, deeply buried and barely known, if known at all, because of all the layers of the false self.
These layers of false self are formed by the world around us, by our experiences and by our attempts to defend ourselves against these experiences.
Alice Miller, in her psychotherapeutic classic, The Drama of the Gifted Child, calls this manufactured personality, constructed to win the approval and love of those around us, our "as-if personality."
This false self moves back and forth between grandiosity and depression. I must be the brilliant, perfect, supremely gifted, competent in all things, what one has called "omni-competent," or I will be rejected. Grandiosity turns to depression Ė or barely holds it at bay Ė because we believe unless we are all these things we cannot be lovable or acceptable.
Layers of false self can be shaped by the culture around us. By our consumer culture: You are what you own. By our success culture: You are your position. By our entertainment culture: You are what you look like Ė and you must look like a Sports Illustrated Swimsuit model or be as buff as the guy in the Abercrombie and Fitch ad.
We can feel ourselves living out of our false self when the volume turns up on our pride, anger, or envy. Where our defensiveness grows. When we feel worthless. When we speak or act with cruelty toward others. When we are cruel to ourselves, beating ourselves up for being human, internalizing the cruelty of others toward us.
Jesus is our non-shaming guide, leading us down through the layers of false self until we reconnect with our true self as the Beloved.
At Jesusí baptism he heard Godís voice saying, "You are my son, the Beloved, in whom I am well pleased." Then immediately the Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be tested by Satan. "Satan" literally means "the accuser." Jesus called him "the father of lies." Satan is the accusing voice which tells you lies about yourself and others.
All three temptations listed in the gospel accounts were temptations to grandiosity, to deny his belovedness as Godís child, and to pretend to be God: 1) Be a miracle worker; turn these stones into bread; 2) Be king of the world; I will deliver all the nations into your hand; 3) Be immune to suffering and death: jump off the temple spire and the angels will parachute you safely to the ground. (These are temptations to communities and nations as well as persons.)
Jesus overcame these temptations because he never stopped hearing: You are my son, the Beloved: In you, as you are, I am well pleased.
Can we hear these words spoken to us? Can we let them sink to the depth of our being? "I have molded you and made you, I have called you by name, you are mine. You are my beloved daughter, son in whom I take delight. I will never leave you. We are one."
This is what Jesus heard at his baptism. These are Godís words to us amid the waters of our birth - our motherís waters - and the waters of our baptism.
Such is why Jesusí prayers in the gospels always begin with Abba, the most intimate address of a child for a perfectly loving parent. Abba, Daddy, Poppa, an address which expresses this deepest intimacy and trust, affection, reverence and confidence.
Our spiritual quest is to become who we are, become the Beloved. Nouwen uses the fourfold Eucharistic action of Jesus at the table to describe our journey. Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and broke it, and gave it to his disciples.
Taking refers to our chosenness. God has chosen us to be his/her child, taken us into his/her arms and begun the sacred relationship. Sometimes we have interpreted chosenness in an exclusive way: We only are chosen. But when you know you are taken in Godís arms and chosen, you do not feel you alone must be chosen. You see every child, every people as chosen.
Blessing. Picture God now looking you in the eye and blessing you. You see the delight in Godís eyes.
Breaking. Our brokenness is part of our humanness. It does not deny our chosenness and our belovedness. We are all broken in some way, all wounded. And our brokenness is related in a crucial way to the uniqueness of who we are and of our own life experiences.
Here is the crux of the matter. Nouwen calls us to befriend our brokenness and place it under the light of blessing. When we befriend our brokenness, we accept it as part of our humanity. We stop hating it, cursing it, or cursing ourselves for it. We take it out of the realm of curse and place it in the light of blessing. We let God heal it and use it for good.
Given. Finally, as Jesus gave bread to his disciples, we are given. God gives us to one another and to the world. And God gives others to us.
Whom has God given to you to love and cherish, to befriend and help, to care for and to serve? Who has been given to you, that they may love and cherish and care for you?
Becoming the beloved opens your eyes to your givenness to others, and to those given to you.
Taking, blessing, breaking, giving: It is how God takes us and the stuff of our lives and creates from it all a sacrament of grace. It is how we become priests to one another.
This belovedness transforms not only how we look at ourselves, but also how we look at others in our world. The Archbishop of Canterbury was quoted in todayís Charlotte Observer in these words:
God has created us all, chosen us all!
A priest from Detroit visited his uncle in Ireland. It was his uncleís eightieth birthday. One morning the two woke before dawn and went for a walk along Lake Killarney.
They stood side by side and watched a gorgeous sunrise. Suddenly his eighty-year-old uncle turned and went skipping down the road. Radiant, smiling ear to ear.
The nephew said: "Uncle Seamus, you really look happy."
"I am, lad," his uncle replied.
"Want to tell me why?"
His uncle replied: "You see, me Abba is very fond of me."3
So is your Abba, your Lord, your Jesus, very fond of you.
God doesnít just love you Ė God is supposed to do that! God likes you, really likes you!
"I am baptized" we say as we arise every morning. And at the heart that means:
You are the Beloved in whom God is well pleased.
1. (New York: Crossroad, 1993), p. 26.
2.The Charlotte Observer, Sunday, March 9, 2003.
3. Brennon Manning, Abba's Child (Colorado Springs, Colorado, 1994), p. 65.