I woke up at 2 this morning puzzling over and over in my mind about the nature of my personal identity. Just who was I exactly? Maybe that only happens to truly tormented individuals but regardless it kept me awake for the rest of the night.
In fact it bugged me so much I was tempted to immediately get up and begin writing my thoughts down but in the end decided to wait for daylight. And so I tossed and turned.
Tried as I might, I could not seem to personally identify with anything national, political, or cultural. Unlike my friend who lives in Singapore and another friend who is Dutch, both of whom I view as justifiably fervent nationalists (with countries to be proud of), US politicians over the years, death-spiraling into the likes of Donald Trump, have made me mostly forfeit my national identity. And just as importantly, the big box stores and the consumer squeeze have all but destroyed any remaining cultural identity ties to the US.
This all makes for a serious case of vertigo. And then, like that proverbial lost wandering Jew, I have become that muttering self-exiled American living in Mexico grinding his teeth over his presumed lost identity.
So anyway, sometime just before dawn I said to myself, ‘I am a rational Christian.’ I came to the conclusion, ‘rational Christianity’ means that while I have faith in what has been left unseen, I believe in the [rational] exposition of Christ as revealed by scripture. (Yes, Christianity is rational.)
After hours of maddening internal discussion I realized just how difficult it was to reduce one’s personal essence down to a single ‘I am…’ statement.
The Apostle John recorded seven instances of Jesus in his humanity quietly explaining to his disciples just who he was using humble metaphors like, ‘I am the vine. I am the good shepherd…’.
That is especially interesting if you contrast Jesus’ statements with those of the Father who in response to Moses’ question of what to tell the people, ‘Who sent me, what is his name?,’ perfunctorily replied, ‘I AM hath sent me unto you.’ With I AM in capital letters.
Spanish has two verbs – ser and estar – which conjugate as first personal single tense as ‘I am’. Soy Americano means I am American. Estoy feliz means I am happy. Ser is used in the permanent sense as in something you can’t change and estar is used in the impermanent sense. Example. I will always be an American but while I am happy this minute I might be sad later.
So linguistically I AM has consequences. Saying I AM, followed by nothing, implies much more than just the two words alone. Example. Identifying yourself as I AM – using a file format metaphor – is like identifying yourself as the root drive, C:\.
God is saying I AM the root of everything. Everything starts with me, everything gets built out from me.
Questing for one’s own ‘I am’ can be troubling. Asking yourself, ‘Who am I?’ can have disturbing consequences. If you’ve ever be caught illegally straying across that center yellow line then maybe referentially you’ll always be that convicted felon. Even in your own mind.
I know with my numerous transgressions in my early years it could very easily have turned out that way for me. (But I was gratefully and Gracefully spared that.)
Or maybe you’ve come to identify with your profession or occupation? Like I am a lawyer. But that begs the question of how does a retired lawyer think of himself? Nauseatingly as it might seem (probably), ‘I am a retired lawyer’; both to himself and to others.
One never ceases being a doctor, right? So right up until death, forever bounded by your occupational identity. Sad, imagining how such thinking can lead in the opposite direction of self-awareness.
Sleepless, tossing and turning this morning I found that identifying myself as a rational Christian was in and of itself not entirely descriptively satisfying so that caused me further unrest.
I began by stripping away all those external elements that I do not value; listing those things that I do not identify with. And temporally speaking – given that my life has been pared down to just the essentials: running, reading/ writing/studying, eating, drinking and thinking; the list most unsurprisingly excluded just about everything else.
And when I consider the past, present and future of my life there has, is and will only be one defining and meaningful element to it. And that is making something; constantly involved in some aspect of creation. Be it working with leather or wood, or just pen and paper.
And as for people, I can only truly identify with those like me. Those who take the time to disengage from the trivial pursuit of entertaining themselves stupid to ask themselves and others, ‘Just who are we and just what are we really doing here anyway?’
As Dylan once said, ’Those not busy being born are busy dying.’