Abba-Amma. Beloved

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Beloved. Help me see what You see. Beloved. Help me love as You love. - Nicole Walters

When I first started practicing Centering Prayer in earnest, focusing on a sacred word to bring my thoughts back to the Presence of God, I daily focused on the word beloved. I was struggling to see anything good in myself. Borrowing from the teachings of Brennan Manning, I imagined crawling up in the lap of my loving Father. Something still felt amiss, though.

Living in Dhaka and learning the marvels of the Bangla language expanded my prayers in a way I never expected. The word for father in Bangla is “Abba,” that same loving name Manning uses for his Father God. “Amma” is the word for mother, but there isn’t a separate word meaning “parents.” Instead, Abba-Amma (or the more informal Baba-Ma) is used to signify parents, the combination of mother and father, the ones who are everything to the child. The distinct-yet-inseparable persons make up all the child needs.

I prayed in this way, calling God my Father-Mother, my good parents, my everything. And I breathed in the belief that I was their beloved.

For a long time, that’s all I could pray: “God, help me see you as good. God, help me understand your love for me.”

Abba-Amma.
Beloved.

I don’t remember when the shift first happened. I just noticed when it had. I would see the face of others I loved while I sat silently anchored by the word “beloved.” I would hold onto the pain I knew a friend or family member was experiencing like I could take it away for a moment. It was as if I could sense God saying, “They too are my beloved; now help them see it.”

The sense of God’s love for me had seeped down deep into my bones and I didn’t need to ask God to show it to me anymore. I could hold out that hope for others. I could see the way we’re all connected to each other. I could clearly see, as Desmond Tutu said, that: “My humanity is caught up, is inextricably bound up, in yours. We belong in a bundle of life.”

What I felt in an increasingly negative social media world, flew in the face of this connectedness and sent me into retreat-mode. I thought it was that I couldn’t deal with those people—their vitriol and hatred.

What these online attacks brought out in me was the problem.

There’s a place for anger at injustice. There’s a time for standing up for the name of Christ being used for all kinds of evils. But first, there’s a need for love and tenderness toward all, even (or especially) for those who provoke us to anger.

I’m feeling the urging again in these days to change the focus of my prayers. So, what if I can see my friends and family as God’s beloved? Can I see those who are easier to imagine as Enemy in the same way? As I ease back online amidst the beauty and the chaos of all humanity on display there, I hold tight to my sacred word. That person delivering a racist rant—still God’s beloved. That friend who uses politics as a weapon—beloved.

“God so loved the world that God gave us each other. We enter a vibrant knowing that we’re one with every creature,” said Sue Monk Kidd. “In the contemplation of our waiting hearts, we so encounter the life of God in the soul that we begin to gradually draw from a new set of values and orientations—those of compassion.”

I don’t want to see the world this way—to see people who hurt others as people who are also hurting. It’s easier not to. It’s easier to think, Us vs Them. For vs Against. It’s easier to run away and pretend the sometimes angry, vicious world online doesn’t exist in reality. It does. It’s a reflection of what’s inside all of us—what the world is like without empathy. It’s a reflection of what the world is like without the love of Abba-Amma.

How will I interact with it? How will I ask God to intervene? How will I allow God to change my heart? These days as I enter online spaces, I wrap prayer beads around my wrist. The cold, smooth stones press against the back of my hand as my fingers navigate the keys.

Beloved. Smooth away my rough edges so they become like these delicate stones.

Beloved. Help me see what You see.

Beloved. Help me love as You love.

Beloved.

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