Saturday, 5 July 2014

Who do you think you are?

I recently invited a friend to an event at chapel. The invitation read “come as you are, exactly as you…but do not expect to leave in exactly the same condition.” It’s something I always say. There is something of my slightly mischievous humour in the phrase and there is a serious point too. Now my friend's response was quite interesting and I suspect a little mischievous too. He said “But what if you don’t know who you are.” I laughed to myself as I read it and then it got me thinking.

Who exactly are we? Does anyone truly know the answer to that question? Who do we think we are?

It is a well-known phrase isn’t it? “Who do you think you are? Now usually it’s said to someone who is getting a bit too big for their boots, someone who is standing above their station and needs knocking down a peg or two, or so we think. We say to them “Who do you think you are?”

Now the phrase has taken on new and different meanings in recent years. There is a well-known television series that goes by the same title. Each episode follows a celebrity as they re-trace their family backgrounds and discover interesting facts about their ancestors. The program can be quite moving at times both for those watching and the celebrities who participate in it.

Now no doubt the program is popular because it is about the lives of these celebrities but that is not the only reason. I suspect that its real popularity is due to the fact that it taps into a fascination that we all share. It seems that most of us wish to know where we come from and I suspect that one of the reasons for this is that we believe it will help us come to a better understanding of who we are. Genealogy has grown in popularity over the last few decades, it has almost become a national obsession. My mum has herself become a self-taught expert in it. She has studied our own family history and also takes great pleasure doing the same research into other peoples families too.

I suspect that this fascination with genealogy grows from our need to know where we come from, perhaps in an attempt to better know who we are. No one person lives a life separate from those around them and the history that they come from. Our lives are not singular cellular ones. The whole history of life has brought us to the point we are at today and who we are has been created from this.

This is beautifully illustrated By Thich Nhat Hahn, who wrote in “Present moment, wonderful moment”

“If you look deeply into the palm of your hand, you will see your parents and all generations of your ancestors. All of them are alive in this moment. Each is present in your body. You are the continuation of each of these people.”

All that has been before is a part of who we are. So who do you think you are?

In Genesis ch1 v 26a we hear the phrase "Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind* in our image, according to our likeness;". It is describing humanity being made in God’s image, in God’s likeness. Now what on earth could this mean? Well image, from the Latin “imago” means reflection or portrait it does not mean exactly the same as. I believe that this passage is suggesting that each of us has something of Divine within us, that we are a reflection of the divine and that this brings a duty to humanity to reflect this image into the world in which we live. This is a real responsibility, to reflect the divine love in life, to incarnate it into being. I wonder how often we actually achieve this.

I believe that most of our human problems stem from our rejection of this "likeness", from our inability to see that we are children of love, formed from love. That this Divine spark is an aspect of our very human being. I know when I look back at my darkest days it is this that frightened me the most and so I rejected it. I know that I am not unique in this thinking about who I am. I feel that so many of us are frightened of this spark of "likeness from which we are formed. Marianne Williamson beautifully illustrated this when she wrote “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually who are you not to be? You are a child of God?”

So who do you think you are? Oh and who do you think that everyone else is? Well I believe that we are all formed from that same love, from that same image. That includes you who read this blogspot and even I who write it.

Now of course this is not all that we are. We humans are capable of the worst kinds of horrors. We only need look at the news to recognise this. I do believe that this stems from our continual failure to recognise this sacredness either within ourselves or one another. When I look at the horrors that took place under the Soviet systems and other nations throughout the twentieth century I believe that the root of the problem was that we had reduced our human beingness to nothing more than commodity and that this sacredness, this Divine likeness, had thus been rejected. If we could only see who we really are, rather than what we think we are, we would no longer hurt one another and ourselves; we could no longer sacrifice another for some perceived greater reality; we could no longer claim that the ends justify the means. We would be compelled instead to recognise one another’s sacred uniqueness.

So how do we begin to recognise this sacredness in each other once again? Well I believe that the answer is simple and it begins with one another, with the person we next meet. Just take a look at their face.

We only really need to look into one another’s faces to truly recognise this incredible sacred uniqueness, no two faces are exactly alike and each face has so much to tell of the person looking back at us. When was the last time you truly looked at someone?

Abraham Joshua Heschel said of the human face.

“A human being has not only a body but also a face. A face cannot be grafted or interchanged. A face is a message, a face speaks, often unbeknown to the person. Is not the human face a living mixture of mystery and meaning? We are all able to see it, and are all unable to describe it. Is it not a strange marvel that among so many hundreds of millions of faces, no two faces are alike? And that no face remains quite the same for more than one instant? The most exposed part of the body, it is the least describable, a synonym for an incarnation of uniqueness. Can we look at a face as if it were a commonplace?”

The face…”a synonym for an incarnation of uniqueness.”…I like that.

Our faces reveal so much of who we are to one another. Think about when you meet up with and old friend or relative, one who you have not seen for many years. How often do they say or do we ourselves say “come on let’s have a good look at you” and how often do they or do we then look into one another’s faces to see how we are? And isn’t the response often fascinating for it either brings immense joy or gut wrenching sadness as we see our loved one as they are, for it is written all over our faces. I remember in my darkest days how I used to hate people doing this to me, for I was afraid that they would be able to see right into my soul and know that things were not ok.

In “Anam Cara” John O’Donohue wrote the following about the face…

“The face always reveals who you are, and what life has done to you. Yet it is difficult for you to see the shape of your own life; your life is too near to you. Others can decipher much of your mystery from your face. Portrait artists admit that it is exceptionally difficult to render the human face. Traditionally, the eyes are said to be the windows of your soul. The mouth is also difficult to render in individual portraits. In some strange way the line of the mouth seems to betray the contour of the life; a tight mouth often suggests meanness of spirit. There is a strange symmetry in the way the soul writes the story of its life in the contours of the face.”

We never see ourselves exactly as we are, we certainly do not see ourselves as others see us. We see an image of ourselves a reflection, but that is not who we truly are. We need others, others who we know intimately to even begin to know ourselves as we truly are. We need to look into one another’s face and see what it is that they are, in order to truly know who we are. We need to look into one another’s faces and do you know what, if we do, we may just catch a glimpse of the divine incarnating in life once again.

Do not be afraid of the beautiful light that is in each and every one of us.

So who do you think you are? It really matters you know. It matters who you think you are and who you think everyone else you meet is. Our very lives depend upon how we see ourselves and one another. It matters because life itself matters. Well it does if we believe that we are children of love, formed from love. Each unique and each vital and each with something to offer to life.

You see we are all a part of this body that is life. Everything that we say and everything that we do matters, just as everything we do not say and everything that we do not do matters. This is why it matters how we see ourselves and one another, who we think we are and who we think everyone else is, for this will impact on how we live in the world.

We need to pay attention to who we think we are and therefore who we think others are. For if we see that we are formed in the image of divine love we will see that we have a responsibility to this life that we lead and the human story that we are a part of. If we do we can become champions of this life, we can become co-creators of the Love that is Divine.

Let us make it so.

I will end this little chip of a blogspot with this little gem on paying attention by James A Autry.

“Threads” by James A Autry in “Love and Profit”

Sometime you just connect,

like that,

no big thing maybe

but something beyond the usual business stuff.

It comes and goes quickly

so you have to pay attention,

a change in the eyes

when you ask about the family,

a pain flickering behind the statistics

about a boy and a girl at school,

or about seeing them every other Sunday.

An older guy talks about his bride,

a little affectation after twenty-five years.

A hot-eyed

achiever laughs before you want him to.

Someone tells you about his wife’s job

or why she quit working to stay home.

An old joker needs another laugh on the way

to retirement.

A woman says she spends a lot of her salary

on an au pair

and a good one is hard to find

but worth it because there is nothing more important

than the baby.


In every office you hear the threads

of love and joy and fear and guilt,

the cries of celebration and reassurance,

and somehow you know that connecting those threads

is what you are supposed to do

and business takes care of itself.

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