January 2, 2012
I came to know about Raymond Carver near the end of his life, when he published his collection of poems reflecting on his impending death from cancer, "A New Path to the Waterfall." The collection included this short poem.
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
This short reflection has always grabbed me. We all need and seek to know ourselves as beloved, by others, by God, by self. It often comes late in life, as it did for Carver, if it comes at all. It is a beautiful thing to hear that someone died knowing they had finally experienced and trusted themselves as beloved, even knowing and confessing their own long, convoluted, muddy path through the woods of their own life, seeking the waterfall out there somewhere.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (Mark 1:9-11)
In Jesus' baptism, he hears a message from God. Only Jesus hears it in Mark's Gospel. It is only for his ears, because he needs to hear it for himself. You are my beloved. You are pleasing to me. Jesus hears it at the beginning of his life's work, and it frees and empowers him to sprint forward into his own life, his own risky path, and his own death. When you know yourself as beloved, you can do that.
Baptism in the church, in its best practice, is an initiation into a life of belovedness, a life of trusting you are beloved by God, community, and self. It is about getting your belovedness at the beginning for the sake of the whole journey, for taking paths you would have avoided had you not known.
Or if belovedness comes to you late, being grateful you got it at all, and letting your belovedness be your new beginning.