Today the wonderful priest at our little Episcopal church stood up for the sermon and said, "For over a year now I've reminded you every week that you are Beloved. There's a reason for this."
Immediately this statement reminded me of my first year as a church choir director and my first boss. Pastor David St. Clair used to address the congregation at Chilhowie United Methodist Church as "Beloved." For a year I listened to him do this week after week. He seemed especially keen about calling them "Beloved" when the message included a serious call to action (and with David it almost always did - thank you for that, dear teacher and friend).
Our priest, Lou Tucker Parsons, went on in her message to remind us of the gospel reading appointed for this Epiphany Sunday, Mark 1:4-11, which concludes with the baptism of Jesus. Jesus comes up out of the water and encounters the Holy Spirit, the same Holy Spirit that was the Word and breath of God during creation . . . the same one that caused his cousin, John, to leap within his mother's womb when the two met before birth, through their mothers' shared wonder. That precious, speaking Spirit, came to Jesus and God made these words manifest in him forever after: You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.
I sat there on the back row of our little sanctuary this morning with tears in my eyes as Lou went on to talk about being Beloved. Jesus was Beloved and went on to pass that Belovedness to his friends and to anybody who would listen. Lou's words brought to mind some of my recent reading - mostly, the work of Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest and modern theologian, who has been writing about the idea of the Cosmic Christ for years now - God resting within all of God's creation and all of God's creation resting in God. Fox thinks of Jesus' Christ-ness as a thing that is passed on to each of us, as anointing is so often passed on - the word "Christ" actually comes out of the tradition of anointing and chosen-ness. There's a lovely prayer in our liturgy that talks about God's restoration of human dignity through Christ. This idea probably comes from the nature of Jesus' own calling - the humble servant who was called "Christ," which was a title reserved for anointed kings and rulers in his own culture. As Jesus passes on his own Spirit (God's own Spirit), he passes on an identity and call to action that is for everybody who will hear it - dignity of personhood and purity of purpose . . . the knowledge of Belovedness and the impetus to share Belovedness with others.
Lou spoke to us about the necessity of sharing this news of Belovedness. She pointed out that when we know we are Beloved and when we truly feel it we have an irresistible tug to share it with whoever we meet. Even difficult people . . . even people we struggle to understand or forgive. Even ourselves, when we're hard to abide with. God's love for us restores our human dignity and restores our sight so that we can bear witness to the human dignity of others. It's a MIRACLE - there is not another word for it. Jesus' culture had broken edges just like our own: power imbalance, dehumanization of whoever was vulnerable, the prizing of fame and fortune above relationship, etc. So it was and is (and always will be) rebellious and miraculous to share instead of hoarding. It was and is (and always will be) a gift for receiving and giving in the same breath.
As a musician, I've always found this gift of God's justifying Spirit to be incredibly poignant in the face of the performance culture prized by society at large. The other day I was across town laying down piano tracks for a new recording project and spent an hour or so talking with my engineering friend after we'd wrapped. We talked about local performance culture and the struggle to keep artistic priorities straight - sharing art above seeking fame. Matthew Fox talks about art as a "democratizing force" in society - he believes that everyone should feel empowered to be creative, to be an artist . . . he sees this as part of the manifestation of God's Spirit in our risen lives, our restored lives, as children of God (always seeking after community, never seeking after exclusivity).
This should not be easy work. Our culture tries to teach us, over and over, that we should be "over" or "above" or "better than" other people around us. But when we truly do feel that Belovedness we also feel deep equality with other people and we feel deep concern for their well being. We genuinely want to look after the sense of Belovedness in other people. Still sounds like a miracle, right?!?
Here is a real life example of this miracle in counter cultural action:
I am a very musical person. I'm an educated musician who spends most of her time educating other musicians. I like singing in public and collaborating when the material is right. I'm flattered by doing well and being told I've done well. And in the past I've been prone to fits of jealousy over others' talent and opportunities. I've also had years in the past when I've been tempted (and have succumbed to the temptation) to selfishly protect my opportunities by ignoring the giftedness of others or the desire in others to see their new gifts better cultivated. In other words: I've wanted solos and recognition . . . and I've tried to get those things at the expense of relationship and community before. God and I have had more than a few words about this . . . God always wins that wrestling match and I always walk away with a limp. I'm thankful for that - the limp I get wrestling with God is more precious and beautiful than the empty clanging of the loveless gong our culture would throw me into.
A few weeks ago I was offered a solo opportunity. It's been a busy year for that sort of thing. During my first year and a half of motherhood I mostly said "no" to offers for solo singing outside of my own songwriting practice, and so the recent uptick in diverse performance opportunities has been an unexpected joy for me, as I've had more time to devote to my singing. I have been pleased to have enough requests that it's been necessary to say "no" to a few of them so that I might do the ones that truly feed my joy. Well, this recent solo opportunity was offered, and immediately a name sprung to mind of another singer in the community whose voice fits the same category as mine. I thought of this singer and immediately felt certain that they would be encouraged by having the chance to do what I'd been asked to do, and further, I felt that if the ones requesting my talent had heard this person's voice previously, they would have also been requesting this person's assistance. So I shared that spot. In fact . . . I found myself rather aggressively advocating for the happy inclusion of this other singer so their giftedness would come to a better light in the eyes of people who might offer future outlets for their artistry.
That's a miracle.
Our culture teaches artists to be exclusive and cut throat about opportunity. God's Spirit teaches artists to be builders of community and keepers of the creative fire in the hearts of others. Our predominate culture and our God teach opposite lessons about artistry. Thanks be to God, we are Beloved enough to stand up to our culture's brokenness and our own brokenness, and share.
It's been suggested by some that the miracle of the fishes and loaves was not a divine magic trick during which food was literally multiplied out of thin air, but rather that the miracle rested in Jesus' ability to convince an entire hungry crowd to willingly share what they had. If this supposition is true then we can look at the end of that story and see that when people feel Beloved enough (safe enough) to share what they have there will always be more than enough to go around . . . there will be love and opportunity enough for all . . . and then some.
If we consistently applied all of this to the world of art and performance what would happen? I can't begin to imagine. I only know that in my own life, it has changed my heart and the soil of my soul in such a way that I have become responsive and forgiving and willing to share and willing to encourage . . . all of this in ways I wouldn't have been before. Left on my own, without this sense of Belovedness to share, I would be a shell of what I am as an artist today - always hungry, always jealous, and always lonely.
God is so gracious.
There is room for everybody at the table. Every voice is meant to be heard. Everyone is invited to be an artist.
Will you pray with me that we would usher in a cultural change wherever we are by feeling Beloved and by sharing Belovedness? Pray with me and act on this prayer so that our communities will become so full of equally beautiful expressivity that there will be more than enough opportunities to go around . . . so that there will always be an extra chair at the table . . . and so that we would put that extra chair out on purpose, never grudgingly.
Beloved - God loves you. God has already breathed life into you. God will never forget your name. God has work for you so that you might take that anointing of Christ onto yourself and serve God's own spirit in others. When the world whispers to you that you aren't good enough or that there's no room for you, tell it to be quiet. Instead of listening to the lie, turn to God (the only One who always tells the Truth) and ask, "What work can I do to serve other people?" God will give you a creative answer.
There's room for you.
There's room for you.
There's room for you.