I am – Who?
An iconic American cartoon figure was short in stature but big on determination. Known as Popeye the Sailor Man, this bow-legged man adventurer was not your typical hero. He had squinty eyes and ate spinach. He always got the girl but she wasn’t a supermodel; rather, she was tall, lankly, and had a name straight from the pantry shelves, Olive Oyl. While he always seemed to have a pipe in his mouth, the viewing children never saw him actually light it up. A true hero for the disenfranchised of the world, Popeye encouraged self-identification and fulfillment with his famous byline: “I ams what I am!”
Knowing “you who are” is as important as knowing who you want to be. Too often, teenagers are asked what they want to be and then become locked in their first or second answer. The life cycle of all of nature is an evolving process and yet we frequently discourage this in humans. Identity is not a coat one puts on and then never changes. It is a process, much like a hike in the woods or mountains.
Yesterday a hiker was rescued after having been lost since August 20th. It was the hiker’s first time with this particular hiking team, having recently moved to the area. The terrain in which the hiker became separated from the rest of the group is rugged. Rescue parties were called in to search and they did, diligently. Searchers were in the air, on horseback, and employed search and rescue dogs to try to find the missing 62-year-old hiker. Described as a seasoned backpacker and quiet, friends still held out hope, hope which was realized when the injured but alive Miyuki Harwood was found. In case you aren’t a familiar with Japanese names, yes, that is a feminine name. Miyuki not only knew herself to be a veteran hiker and backpacker, she knew she was a survivor and survive she did.
Identity is not just a name on an identification card. It is want we believe, what we do, how we dress, and how we treat others. A little known, seldom-used name for the one deity of the monotheistic Abrahamic faiths we have been discussing this month is one of my favorites: “Elohim Nissi”, the Lord my banner.
Henri Nouwen wrote: “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.” … [My dark side says,] I am no good… I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the “Beloved.” Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
That last line of the above quote is a powerful statement: “Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” It would be so simple of believing one was loved was the answer to the world’s problems, most of which have been caused by mankind, wouldn’t it? The problem is that many people who are loved and considered important members of their family still commit heinous acts of violence. Mental illness is certainly one qualifier that disproves this statement but not everyone who leaves their family is mentally ill. Some are just trying to escape their living, trying to establish a new identity that they feel will give their life new purpose.
Aristotle believed that knowing one’s self was the first step to real knowledge. While I am not a mathematician, I find most people can understand advanced geometry better than they understand their partner or even themselves. Franciscan priest, former voluntary prisoner and recovered alcoholic, Brennan Manning ( a nom de plume) spent his entire life searching and creating his identity. In his later years, Manning became an author and wrote “To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life.”
We all are much more than our physical bodies. We all have a spirit within us that propels us forward in our living. “Ruach Hakkodesh”, the Holy Spirit, and “Ruach Elohim”, spirit of God, are two named used to identify the one deity of which we have spent an entire month discussing. If you are curious as to why the Hebrew, the Jewish believers, had a name for something that is associated with Christianity…well, wait until tomorrow. We will discuss that and ask if Christianity really has one god or is somewhat polytheistic. For now, I will just ask you to remember that the first Christians were Jewish and spoke Hebrew-based dialects.
Throughout the mythologies of these three faiths are stories of survival and identity. I recently served as a beta reader for a book published yesterday, the same day of Miyuki Harwood’s rescue. The book is entitled “King David” and is written by another Japanese-American who struggled with identity, J. C. Parks. It is a compelling biography of this man named David, the author to whom many of the psalms of Judaism and Christianity are attributed. It is the story of identity, of faith, and of discovering a spirit to serve as one’s banner.
We all are influenced by product logos, the picture or phrase that identifies a particular product. On websites, they are called “banners”, the eye-catching top of the page design that captures one’s attention and encourages the viewer to read or at least scan the rest of the page. Logo comes from a Greek word, actually a series of Greek words that, contrary to popular belief, does not mean thinking but rather “imprint”.
What we see is imprinted upon our brain but, more importantly, how we act becomes imprinted upon people’s souls. “Indifference and neglect often do much more damage than outright dislike.” While considered one of the most popular children’s books ever written, certainly in the twentieth century, when J. K. Rowling penned that line in one of her Harry Potter books, she wrote what might be termed “gospel words”.
We each wear a logo, present a banner to the world every day. Try as we might to escape, alter or change our identity, what we are in the moment is what we are to the world. It is, however, not something that is cast in concrete or marble for all eternity. We should allow ourselves to evolve, to grow. We all make mistakes. Brennan Manning, in all his travels and identities, learned a most valuable lesson: “In a futile attempt to erase our past, we deprive the community of our healing gift. If we conceal our wounds out of fear and shame, our inner darkness can neither be illuminated nor become a light for others.”
So who do you want to be? I mean, really…deep down…inside. Who are you today and how will who you are today help you become who you want to be tomorrow? J. C. Parks went through several identities in becoming the accomplished author and minister he is today. Like the subject of his latest book, so did King David. We all have the potential to connect with our soul and the spirit that we allow to lead us. We all can be the strong survivor like Miyuki Harwood. Reach out today and let your light, perfect in its imperfectness, reflect your beliefs. You are important. You are the future, not only the future you but the future of the world. Today, celebrate you by becoming a better version of yourself.