Monday, October 12, 2009

"Who am I?"

From an excerpt of the book: Spiritual Direction, by Henri Nouwen.

"The basic question "Who am I?" resurfaces throughout life. An old Talmudic tale sheds light on the true identity and value of each and every human being at the deepest level:

The Fugitive and the Rabbi

One day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became very fearful.The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every person in it unless the young man was handed over to them before dawn.

The people went to the Rabbi and asked him what to do. Torn between handing over the boy to the enemy and having his people killed, the Rabbi withdrew to his room and read his bible, hoping to find an answer before dawn. In the early morning, his eyes fell on these words: "It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost."

Then the Rabbi closed the Bible, called the soldiers, and told them where the boy was hidden. And after the soldiers led the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the Rabbi had saved the lives of the people. But the Rabbi did not celebrate. Overcome with a deep sadness, he remained in his room.

That night an angel came to him and asked, "What have you done?" He said, "I handed over the fugitive to the enemy." Then the angel said: "But don't you know that you have handed over the Messiah?" "How could I know?" the Rabbi replied anxiously. Then the angel said: "If, instead of reading your Bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known."

Are we not challenged in daily life to look deeper into the eyes of the people we encounter - even if they are running away from something - and to see in them the face of God? Perhaps just knowing that they too are beloved children of God will be enought to prevent us from handing them over to the enemy. Are we not also challenged and encouraged to look more deeply at the way God sees u - beloved, accepted, affirmed, and worthy of salvation? Are we, like the fugitive, relections of the Messiah?

There is in each of us an inner voice of Love that says: "You are the beloved of God!"

[Unfortunately] The ultimate spiritual temptation is to doubt this fundamental truth about ourselves and trust in alternative identities. Sometimes we answer the question "Who am I?" with the response, "I am what I do." When I do good things an dhave a little success in life, I feel good about myself. But when I fail, I start getting depressed. And as I get older and can't do much, all I can say is, "Look what I did in my life...look, look, look, I did something good."

Or we might say, "I am what other people say about me." What people say about you has great power. When people speak well of you, you can walk around quite freely. But when somebody starts saying negative things about you, you might start feeling sad. When someone talks against you, it can cut deep into your heart. Why let what others say about you - good or ill - determine who you are?

You might also say, "I am what I have." For example, I am a Dutch person, with kind parents, a fine education, and good health. But as soon as I lose any of it, if a family member dies, if my health goes, or if I lose my property, then I can slip into inner darkness.

How much of our energy goes into defining ourselves by deciding "I am what I do," "I am what others say about me," or "I am what I have?" When that's the case, life often follows a repetitive up-and-down motion. When people speak well about me, and when I do good things, and when I have a lot, I am quite up and excited. But when I start losing, when I suddenly find out that I can't do some task anymore, when I learn that people talk against me, when I lose my friends, then I slip into the pit.

What I want to say to you is that this whole zigzag approach is wrong. I am not what I do, and you are not what you do, or what others say about you, or what you possess. "You are God's Beloved!"

The voice that speakes from above and from within whispers softly or declares loudly: "You are my Beloved son or daughter, on you my favor rests." It certainly is not easy to hear that voice in a world filled with voices that shout: "You are no good; you are ugly; you are worthless; you are despicable; you are nobody unless you can demonstrate the opposite." These negative voices are so loud and so persistent that it is easy to believe them. That's the trap of self-rejection. It is the trap of being a fugitive hiding from your truest identity.

Self rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that declares we are loved. Being the beloved [of God] expresses the core truth of our existence.

Dear friend, being the beloved is the origin and the fulfillment of the life of the Spirit...From the moment we claim the truth of being the beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are...[St.] Augustine's words, "My soul is restless until it rests in you O God," capture well this journey. That I am always searching for God, always struggling to discover the fullness of Love, and always yearning for the complete truth, tells me that I have already been given a taste of God, of Love, and of Truth. I can only look for something that I have, to some degree, already found."

And so, I continue to look for that which I have already found. I continue to seek, and know that I will find. I remind myself of who I am. Know who you are. You are the Beloved of GOD!

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