Who Am I?
Audrey Rogers March 8, 2017
At that time Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was hungry. The tempter approached and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command that these stones become loaves of bread.” He said in reply, “It is written: One does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes forth from the mouth of God.” Then the devil took him to the holy city, and made him stand on the parapet of the temple, and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down. For it is written: He will command his angels concerning you and with their hands they will support you, lest you dash your foot against a stone.” Jesus answered him, “Again it is written, You shall not put the Lord, your God, to the test.” Then the devil took him up to a very high mountain, and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their magnificence, and he said to him, “All these I shall give to you, if you will prostrate yourself and worship me.” At this, Jesus said to him, “Get away, Satan! It is written: The Lord, your God, shall you worship and him alone shall you serve.” Then the devil left him and, behold, angels came and ministered to him.
The question before us here tonight is why did we come?
Maybe we are here because we sensed something in our God-hungry soul, some drive to relate to our better selves, some sense that where we find ourselves spending our lives is not our true home, and that we are desperately tired of living on the rim of our lives in endless empty distractions amid the seduction of the noisy, demanding world around us. If we have that discontent, it is a grace. And by coming tonight we have said ‘yes’ to that grace.
We just heard last Sunday’s Gospel with Jesus tempted in the desert. This Gospel starts Lent every year, so it must have something quite important to say to us. Tonight let our focus be on hearing it as a pattern, an experience that is deeply personally about each of us. How does this gospel relate to the question of ‘who am I?’
Answering this question is no small matter. It is foundational to doing the work of God.
A God-hungry grace can lead us forward but paradoxically it does this by first taking us down into ourselves because the spiritual path begins with going back to encounter our wounded child. It matters little who did the wounding or how it occurred though we often can get stuck there.
What matters most is identifying the wound, seeing what we lost through it, how we began to protect ourselves in reaction, and how we forgot who God created us to be as we became engrossed in our own, misguided effort to re-create ourselves into someone who might protect that wounded child. Was our child one who never measured up? A child hurt and angry for never being affirmed and celebrated? Was our child one who was never accepted and never valued? A child humiliated and ashamed for being who she was? Was our child one who never felt support or guidance? A child made anxious and fearful by lack of security?
Who this child is becomes the key for our spiritual growth. It unlocks how we have come to believe the great lie that we are somehow separate from God and that we even have the power to build up an independent identity in the first place.
The problem is that this self – the independent identity- which we create and carefully craft to protect ourselves is totally unknown to God. And as Thomas Merton once said to be unknown to God is entirely too much privacy. But worse, it is this perceived separation- living in our own version of ourselves – that is the essence of our sin.
If we live out of anger, we re-create ourselves to have power, perfection, and control, and we become judgmental, dismissive, rigid, and righteous.
If we live out of shame, we re-create ourselves to have prestige and adulation, and we become envious, greedy, stingy, and deceitful.
If we live out of fear, we re-create ourselves to be secure, seeking only pleasure and collecting possessions, and we ignore others, forgo discipline in our lives, close in on ourselves, and use people as ends for our purposes.
These laundry lists of sin grow out of our wounded child experience and until we can identify the patterns and we encounter this child within us, we will continue to be manipulated by our lower self. Jesus clearly outlined the patterns in desert temptations.
My own spiritual journey over the past two years has been one of going down in a painful, poignant way to process failure and loss. During this time, my daughter also asked me to write down my childhood memories so she would have a record. And oh-my-goodness, what came out was a series of childhood events in which I was ashamed, failed to live up to expectations, or disappointed people whose love and affirmation I desperately craved. I always thought I had had a happy childhood but my memories do not fully support that. I have begun to understand my subconscious motivations and my need to be without fault, consistently right, and in control to avoid more hurt. Coming face-to-face with this mask, this false self, was painful. I determined to be better. And so then I undertook the task of re-creating myself as a person who would be no longer angry but serene, no longer proud but humble, no longer fearful but courageous.
It seemed the perfectly right way to go but I have learned it is not the Christ path. Because what I was doing was staying in control of the project. I had given my ego -which loves tasks- yet another construction job. A better one, for sure, but still constructing – creating- another self, still unknown to God.
Our call if we choose to follow Jesus and to do God’s work on earth is to awaken to that center where our true self abides, the self created by God, the authentic self, the self with whom God is just totally smitten. That self is our true home.
Because it is this true self that is all that is left when we die. Everything else- everything we think we know about ourselves- is destroyed- eliminated- except for this one thing, which is our reality, and which is the reality that God preserves forever… It is the only thing that matters.
What is the Christ path?
It is most clearly found in the beautiful hymn in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Christ, though in the image of God, did not deem equality with God something to cling to…
We automatically hear this hymn as God emptying out to become like us, but let’s meditate on the human side of the lived experience of Jesus. When we do, it seems the human nature of Jesus never lost time in the effort to build up a separate identity manipulated by needs for power and control, or adulation and fame, or pleasure and possessions. Jesus- unlike Adam- did not grasp at being a god. This is the meaning of Jesus’ temptations.
God demonstrated profound humility in becoming human. Because the infinity of God could not be contained in the human brain, the Christ accepted the limitation of being constrained by human nature. What Jesus did therefore and how he lived is a distinct possibility for us: we are capable of responding to this grace, to follow the Christ path.
Jesus lived from his center, alive in the Trinitarian flow, an exquisite mirror of the love and compassion of God. When we find and live from our center- the reality that God preserves forever- we will truly, fully, and gracefully answer the question of who I am.
So perhaps we might consider that it is this invitation to awaken to our center – our own authenticity – that is the grace that brought us here tonight for it is the very work of God. If it is what brought us, then our being together is a great gift.
So who am I? I do not really know yet but I have been told and have been encouraged to believe what the mystics know: that we do not have to physically die to be in heaven. With God’s grace, my center is where I will find the answer, it is the divine spark, it is the place of no boundaries, no walls, no limits, no form. It is where I am not God, but I am not other than God either.
It is who I am in God’s own heart surrendering to rest in the Ultimate Love and drawing my life from the Infinite Source. Then I might be both held and guided. But the only pathway there is silence, a silence in which God can finally name me, can look upon my face, can write my script, and give the kiss and I will know who I am.