Homily, The Beloved Prayer
The Third Sunday in Lent, 2023
Good Shepherd Episcopal Church
The Rev. Derek M Larson, TSSF
Today’s Lectionary Readings:
In the name of Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Don’t you love a good rom-com? And every good rom-com starts with a good meet-cute. Have you heard that term? A meet-cute is the scene in the beginning of a movie when two seemingly unlike people share a moment with one another which is often awkward or coincidental. They may but heads at first or even have an argument, but from the beginning you know that they will end up falling in love. Classic! I think perhaps this timeless formula for love stories is so popular because (1) it touches the human longing to be loved (romantic or otherwise) and (2) it gives hope that love can be found in the least likely places.
Well, what we have today in our gospel passage is a Meet-Cute. It is the meeting of two unlikely people. A Jewish rabbi and a Samaritan woman. And they share together a moment alone in a public place that at first has a bit of a rocky start, but by the end becomes a life changing relationship. Today in the gospel we hear a love story. Maybe not a romance, but a love story none-the-less. In fact, that’s what I think the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman is all about.
He says to her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is asking for a drink, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water. Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Jesus, here, is speaking about love. The living water about which he speaks is love. And not just any fleeting love, but the love of God by which we each were created. Jesus is telling the woman that when we drink deeply from that love, “it will become in us a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”
Here in the season of Lent each week I am sharing about spiritual practices and today I share with you a meditation called the Beloved Prayer. It was written by Arthur LeClair and popularized by Henri Nouwen and has at its center a mantra. Now you may or may not be experienced with the practice of meditation or use mantras, but a mantra is a word or short phrase that is repeated over and over again to focus the attention on a particular idea or truth. You might use a mantra throughout your day or more often in a specific time set-aside for prayer and meditation. The Beloved Prayer is intended to be a 30 minute meditation with three 10 minute sections using a mantra that slightly changes with each section. For some of us 30 minutes might be a little difficult at first so you can shorten to 15 minutes or even 9 minutes. But the intention is to find a quiet and comfortable place to sit. To close your eyes and repeat the mantra so that it becomes woven into your being.
It just so happens that the three sections of the Beloved Prayer very closely align to three aspects of our gospel passage today. So let’s look at them together.
The first 10 minutes of the Beloved Prayer uses the mantra, “Jesus, you are the beloved.” Sitting quietly for 10 minutes you simply repeat that phrase as much as you like. Jesus, you are the beloved. Jesus, you are the beloved. In this first section you dedicate your focus to encountering Jesus as the beloved—as the one sent by God to be a Divine manifestation of love in the world. As we heard last week, “For God so loved the world, that God sent Christ to us.” Jesus is the beloved. This time is not so much an intellectual reflection as it is a prayer and an encounter with who Jesus is. “Jesus, you are the beloved.”
In the holy meet-cute we read about today, the samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus begins with the discovery of who Jesus was. She essentially asks him, “Who do you think you are to ask me for water?” And he replies to her, “if you knew who it was that asked you.” There’s a question of who Jesus is, and in their conversation they slowly uncover the identity of Jesus as the messiah, the one sent by God. The Samaritan woman’s encounter with Jesus begins with the discovery of who he is. And likewise we begin the Beloved Prayer with an encounter of who Jesus is. Jesus, you are the beloved.
The second 10 minutes of the Beloved Prayer uses the slightly modified mantra, “Jesus, I am the beloved. Jesus, I am the beloved.” Sitting quietly for 10 minutes you simply repeat that phrase as much as you like. “Jesus, I am the beloved.” Having experienced who Jesus is, in this second section you focus on your own identity as God’s beloved. You are God’s beloved child. It has always been true, but sometimes we forget it. And so we look for that love in other places. We look for it in the approval and affection of those around us. Our coworkers, our friends, our spouses. And their love is wonderful to have, but if we base our core belovedness on their approval and affection what happens when they’re gone or when they’re unhappy with us? It leaves us doubting our own worthiness of love. But our belovedness comes not from the changing relationships around us, but the unchanging truth of God’s love for us. Jesus, I am the beloved.
Perhaps that’s what the samaritan woman was experiencing in our gospel passage. It says that she had had 5 husbands. Now we don’t know if she had been divorced 5 times or widowed 5 times or a combination of both, but this is a woman that lacked the stability of a long-term relationship. And perhaps with that lack of stability she found herself questioning her own worthiness of love. Perhaps she found herself daily coming to the well because the love she experienced in life only lasted until her circumstances had changed. But then Jesus came and offered her an unending love—living water gushing up to eternal life. Having experienced Jesus as the beloved, she was able to experience her own belovedness.
The final 10 minutes of the Beloved Prayer uses the mantra once more, again slightly modified, “Jesus, we all are the beloved. Jesus, we all are the beloved.” Sitting quietly for 10 minutes you simply repeat that phrase as much as you’d like. “Jesus, we all are the beloved.” Having experienced Jesus as the beloved and our own belovedness, that love gushes up and overflows into those around us, so that each person we encounter can also become for us the beloved. In this final 10 minutes as you repeat that mantra, perhaps the faces of those in your life past and present come to mind, and you begin to see their belovedness.
That’s exactly what happened to the woman at the well. Having experienced Jesus as the beloved and herself as the beloved, she naturally went and shared with her entire community the message. “Come and see a man who told me everything I’d ever done!” She says. That’s the way love works. The love of God is a love of abundance. There is so much of it that it gushes forth to everyone we encounter. When we experience Christ as the beloved and ourselves as the beloved, then we begin to treat our neighbor as the beloved.
And that’s it. Again, it’s a simple practice, but when you dedicate some time and attention to it, it has a way of fostering and growing God’s love within you so that it may truly become a spring of water welling up within. So I invite you into own little meet-cute with Jesus today, where you can experience the kind of love that is not only unexpected, but life-changing and unending.
Jesus, you are the beloved.
Jesus, I am the beloved.
Jesus, we all are the beloved. Amen.