Well-Beloved

477 (1)Recently, we bought our cat some food. She didn’t like it (cats!) but the name struck me. It was by a brand called James Wellbeloved. What a wonderful name! I would happily give up my (rather cool, I think) surname to be called Wellbeloved, it’s even better than the surname of someone I know, who is called “Friend.”

Of course, the Bible calls us all well-beloved. God himself says that he loves us. In the Song of Solomon (2:16) it says: “My beloved is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies.” Mystical literature often returns to the theme of God as Lover of our souls, he who desires us and whom we desire, and their words are full of promises, such as that of the English mystic Dame Julian of Norwich, who wrote: “God loved us before he made us; and his love has never diminished and never shall.”

Sometimes I feel that God does not, cannot love me. I cannot see much to love in myself, although I see much to love in others. I am far harder on myself than on other people – I can see beyond the faults of those I meet (mostly) to find something in them worthy of love, something loveable. Of course, part of the problem when applying that to myself is that I recognise theologically that we are not, in fact, worthy of love. The Bible says that we all deserve death, because we have sinned against our God. Indeed, it was humans just like us who called for and received God’s death, and who still continue to sin, even though we follow him.

In some ways, I am still stuck at pre-conversion. By that I mean that I have a great sense of my own sin and inadequacy, but seem to have failed to move past that, into the free life of confidence in God’s love for me, in his passion for me and my well-being, into an acceptance of myself as God’s beloved.

I think that the root of my own mental illness is this perfectionism, is the idea that, no matter what I do or how hard I try, I am never good enough. Never a good enough friend, daughter, Christian, human being; that I am a failure, not perfect, and therefore worthless. My own theological education has exacerbated that, by teaching me strongly about sin and death, and the highly conservative Protestant books I read while in my final year at university, that year when I was the most acutely ill, which concentrated on human sinfulness and unworthiness of God in preference to the love of God, really didn’t help. I can give myself sticks to beat myself with from Scripture, words of condemnation for various sins I am sure I am committing (and the ones most hard to argue out of are the more nebulous ones – not stealing, but failing to act out of love; not murder, but bitterness.)

I wonder whether bipolarity is also a personality trait – I tend to extremes. I either drink far too much, or not at all; smoke a lot, or not at all; play computer games until my eyes stream with tears, or ignore it for months. I was an evangelical atheist, then became a Christian. Now most of my life is consumed with Christianity, with reading – I have not read a secular book in many months – with thinking, with church and wanting to become a priest. I am immoderate, and while I think that, in terms of Christian “stuff” (books, church services, whatever) this is not a bad thing, I worry about my tendency to see myself as either/or : either a sinner, forever unworthy of God, or else not in need of God at all. I am at the first stage – I find it hard to accept that God loves me, accepts me, sees me as his beloved child, but I worry that I will wind up in the second, that the pain of feeling worthless all the time will eventually turn me away from church and from the things of God entirely. It is easier to fall from a height than a shallow; easier to reject God from loving him than it is from a matter of indifference.

The answer, of course, is hope. Trusting in God, and repeating to myself that he does love me, that he proved once and for all that he loves me by his death, and that his promise to me, of freedom from the mental torture of my own thoughts, comes by way of Easter. I hope, one day, that by repeating the truth, that I am beloved, well-beloved, that God is in me and around me and with me always, that he looks on me, and sees me in the same way he sees Christ, and that – those wonderful words – he is my Friend, and I am his, I hope one day to fully accept – in the heart as well as the head, that I am worth something to the only person to whom that matters, my God.

I leave you with a prayer from Dame Julian of Norwich, and then with a YouTube video of a song called “My Beloved” by Kari Jobe (lyrics underneath the video.)

“God, of thy goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough for me,
and I can ask for nothing less
that can be full honour to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever Shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.”
― Julian of Norwich

 

You’re my beloved, you’re my bride
To sing over you is my delight
Come away with me my love

Under my mercy come and wait
Till we are standing face to face
I see no stain on you my child

You’re beautiful to me
So beautiful to me

I sing over you my song of peace
Cast all your care down at my feet
Come and find your rest in me

I’ll breathe my life inside of you
I’ll bear you up on eagle’s wings
And hide you in the shadow of my strength

I’ll take you to my quiet waters
I’ll restore your soul
Come rest in me and be made whole

You’re my beloved, you’re my bride
To sing over you is my delight
Come away with me my love

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