One of the primary reasons people my age enjoy Facebook is the opportunity to take quizzes. Many of these quizzes are about identity. Through answering a set of random questions the quiz will determine what state you should live in (New Hampshire); what religion you really are (Hinduism – because I know down-ward facing dog?); what color your aura is (violet, which means I am psychic and wise…). Playing these games always cracks me up; they are all in good fun.
But beyond the silliness of the quizzes is a deeper question concerning our desire to know our “true selves.” As Christians we are on a life-long journey of coming to know our true selves, and Jesus is our guide along the way. From the earliest of days, the Christian journey has been one of shedding the artificial sense of self formed in part in response to the pulls and pushes of the world around us. The artificial self is a natural defense to being told that we are not good enough, thin enough, experienced enough, young enough, smart enough, or rich enough. We begin to shed the defense of not being enough as we come to understand that God loves us just as we are.
Christian spirituality has many metaphors for shedding one’s artificial self. A Celtic metaphor was revealed to a friend of mine when she traveled to the holy island of Lindisfarne, a remote tidal island off the north east coast of England. When the tide is in this island is far from land, surrounded by water and seemingly isolated. But when the tide is out one can walk a narrow path from the main land to the island over slippery rocks.
As a child my friend was taught to always wear shoes for fear of hurting her feet. But for this journey across the rocks to Lindisfarne she took off her shoes and walked in her bare feet.
The rocks were slippery and cold. The walk took on a mystical quality as she imagined the many feet over the centuries that traveled this same journey of faith.
She walked carefully, one foot in front of the other, and yet with a sense of abandon. Her bare feet grounded her and simultaneously enabled her to be more free and open to the experience, more able to really feel.
Then she slipped and stubbed her toe.
Her first inclination was to scold herself for being foolish, then she realized that stumbling is part of life, part of the faith life, too. From a spiritual perspective, falling is how we find our true self.
Stumbling is part of life and the Christian journey.
At our diocesan clergy conference a couple of weeks ago Bishop Gibbs asked us to consider:
"What do we need to trust fully in God's grace?"
My initial response to this question was, love. Love is how I learn to trust in God grace. Over time I have come to understand that there are many forms of love. Love that teaches us to trust in God’s grace is a love that brings out our most authentic self because it embraces who we really are.
In my childhood, while I am sure my parents loved me; they did not love me for being me. They loved me because I was who they wanted me to be. My parents taught me that love was about molding myself into the desires and expectations of other people.
Over time I have come to have a healthier understanding of who I am and what love really is. This understanding is formed through my life experiences and through many challenges, including challenges to my faith. Ultimately I have found that trusting that God loves me for being exactly who I am – even in my bleakest moments – reveals to me my most authentic sense of self – and I am able to see and appreciate who I am, flawed and remarkably whole at the same time.
Jesus teaches us that love is the foundation for trust and trust is the foundation for love. Like walking barefoot across cold, wet, slippery rocks, the journey of learning to trust in God’s love feels similarly risky.
Through trials and tribulations, broken or whole, confused or clear headed, healthy or sick, happy or angry, grateful or bitter, in every aspect of my being, I have come to understand that God loves me exactly as I am. And, God loves you too, just exactly as you are right now. It can feel risky to drop our defenses and be our true selves. But this is only because it leaves us vulnerable. Being loved that deeply leaves us raw.
On Easter morning Mary encounters the resurrected Jesus, but in his new state of being she does not recognize him. In the resurrection Jesus appears to Mary in his most raw, pure, and authentic self. He is now able to show people all of who he is, human and divine, the revelation of God’s love made manifest in human flesh. Perhaps Jesus was still struggling himself with this awareness because he asks Mary not to hold onto him. But later he invites Thomas to touch the wounds that remain in his flesh. Perhaps even Jesus needed time to grow into his resurrected self?
On the other hand Jesus always sees the full authentic sense of self in other people. He affirms Mary Magdalene’s true self. He affirms this in the woman who anointed his feet with nard and the woman at the well. He affirmed Peter who denied him three times. He affirmed tax collectors and Pharisees, Samaritans and Gentiles – friends and strangers – and you and me.
Richard Rohr, a renowned author of Christian Spirituality writes this about the discovery of one’s true self:
… the discovery of your True Self will feel like a thousand pounds of weight have fallen from your back. You will no longer have to build, protect, or promote any idealized self images. Living in the True Self is quite simply a much happier existence, even though we never live there a full twenty-four hours a day. But you henceforth have it as a place to always go back to.
Jesus looks deep into a person and calls forth their true sense of self. Responding to Jesus, one is healed of all that has confined them. Healed of self-limitations, healed of the limits imposed by others, healed of the deep wounds to the soul.
God’s love made manifest in Jesus is not something that happened two thousand years ago.
This resurrection, this revelation of God’s love in the person of Jesus, happens all the time.
The resurrection happens every time someone looks deep into your being, sees you for who you really are and loves you deeply. Those fleeting moments of authentic love happen for each us.
And when it happens, even for just a moment, we are happier than we ever thought possible.
Pay attention. It will happen to you too, and then you will know that you have encountered the risen Christ.