Who Am I?
Thoughts on the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time, January 28, 2018
by Rev. Jim Ryan, firstname.lastname@example.org
So, here’s the thing about asking the “Who am I?” question. Well, it’s the thing for me, maybe for you too. Much first needs to be removed because the response to the question too often starts with “I do this / I do that.” Much also involves, “I ought to be / I should be.” And then there’s, “Here’s what others tell me I am.” So much needs to be removed.
For this effort pick your favorite metaphor and go at it. It might be peel away as if I were an onion. Or, it might be shovel down to dig away all my learned behavior of should and oughts. Or, it might be change the earphones to keep out other people’s voices. Whatever it takes, the removal of much clutter and noise is probably the start of the “Who am I?” exploration.
Getting to the “heart of the matter” in this search starts with 2 things. First, there is no blame, shame, or guilt permitted in this self-search. All the shoulds and oughts, the “Why didn’t I’s?” and “How could I’s?” are set aside. To ask “Who am I?” is about my core, so – for now – all the doings of my life are placed in another column in my spreadsheet of life.
In today’s first reading Moses tells the people that God will select persons “like me” to speak for God to them. Those selected will be called prophets. One has to believe in saying this about himself that Moses likely engaged in a fair amount of introspection and focus. Here was a man who murdered and fled his country so as not to be caught. He must have asked himself, “Who am I?” that God calls me to be a prophet.
Here’s something to consider while we are also on this path of introspection. It took 1200 years and the coming of Jesus before the idea sank in that we are called to speak for God, all prophets. We are all called, each one of us, to also ask Moses’ (presumed) question, “Who am I?”
So, setting aside shame, blame, and guilt assists us in this journey to my core.
Secondly, this is a journey of faith. To ask the question, “Who am I?” is not about piling on to myself with accusations of darkness and doubt. This journey is about a confidence in the connection with the divine. It is to begin from the awareness, an intuition even, that this is a godly question pulling/leading each one of us to the Source.
Taking time to appreciate this connection in faith is vital. Some people are fortunate enough to spend week-long retreats (some even 30 days) on just this faith search. After all, it took 1500 years and the Protestant Reformation for Christians to believe – contrary to what St. Paul taught the Corinthians – that each one of us finds our closeness to God in the connections of our lives and not only in a certain solitariness. That being said, what is it that awaits a focused believer in this exploration?
First is dignity. To ask is to discover that I am a creation, an image, a child of God. To appreciate this discovery is to live with the assurance that I am beloved. How valuable I am in the scheme of living when living happens in and, especially, beyond this world. How worthy am I to live in the gaze of God. It is a worth to God, as Jesus says, of more than a “flock of sparrows.” Quaint perhaps, but true.
Second is wonder. (I am indebted to the philosopher, John Sallis, for this view on wonder.) He writes that wonder occurs as the amazement one feels upon experiencing things. It is the sensible (as in physical senses) not the intelligible that matters here. Think of the amazement of the child who first sees something that captures her/his attention. Or think of the tilt of your puppy’s head when he hears you sing, “Fairy tales do come true” to him for the first time.
Wonder is also about vision, according to Sallis, the vision of seeing the world for the first time. It is the vision of stepping out of your tent on a glorious sun-filled morning only to realize that you had pitched camp the night before on the side of a lake with the Canadian Rocky Mountains in the background. I’ve had that vision.
When one is given the gift of wonder while pursuing answers to the “Who am I?” question it is then that one answers truly, “I am not alone.” You see, and perhaps you already know, that this question which seems to head toward isolation is totally an invitation to connect.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the pastor, teacher, and martyr, confronted this question. He wrote, “Who am I?” while in prison awaiting execution in a Nazi prison as World War II was almost at its end. His writing this, which is included in his “Letters & Papers from Prison,” was an exposition of his own struggle with how he acted and who he was in the face of wondering in those final days. He wrote:
“Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today, and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
and before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, thou knowest, O God, I am thine.”
Yes, to ask, “Who am I?” is to connect. It is to say, “I am thine.”
A Prayer (JR)
You gather us here, Compassionate Creator, and call us to explore the questions of our lives. We celebrate our common humanity and the gifts you give to shower us with dignity.
Each one here listens to that inner voice that tells us who we are. Your Spirit enlivens our spirits to reach beyond ourselves to serve others.
For this we are grateful, each one, for your life in, with, and through us. You are Creator, Redeemer, and Spirit now and forever. Amen.