If we believe that God knows our “inmost being”, does it ultimately matter to God if we know who we are: if we know our “inmost being”? Why would or should this matter? Could this self-knowing (or, knowledge of self) potentially lead us onto the pathway of greater dependence, greater peace, greater strength, and greater love? Our friend, Gwen White, often references St. Francis’s prayer: “Who are you, Lord, and who am I?” as a gateway to connection and openness with God. This prayer might carry the answers to the questions above. This week, we will try out different lenses or frameworks as we explore together how the quest of knowing ourselves might help us to access more of God living in and among us.
Today’s Bible reading
These four verses are quoted or referenced in Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and seem today like an appropriate way to help us think about how our collective and individual past (in societal, personal, institutional, and generational ways) can impact what we know about ourselves.
Amos 5:21-24 : “I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
Isaiah 40: 3-8: A voice of one calling: “In the wilderness prepare the way for the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places plain. And the glory of the Lord will be revealed, and all people will see it together. For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” A voice says, “Cry out.” And I said, “What shall I cry?” “All people are like grass, and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field. The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the Lord blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.”
Psalm 30: 1-5: I will exalt you, Lord, for you lifted me out of the depths and did not let my enemies gloat over me. Lord my God, I called to you for help, and you healed me. You, Lord, brought me up from the realm of the dead; you spared me from going down to the pit. Sing the praises of the Lord, you his faithful people; praise his holy name. For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.
Galatians 3:23-28: Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Thoughts for Meditation
Christianity relies, in part, on remembering. Remembering our past, remembering Jesus, remembering stories and narratives about God’s movement and identity, all of which inform our understanding of the present. Rev. Dr. King knew his past; he perhaps didn’t have the luxury (or desire) to ignore or forget his and this country’s past. Yet, his intentional remembering of history did not create in him a paralysis that some might worry could settle in if they really began to explore their past. His awareness gave him energy, power, and focus. I wonder what, if anything, stops us from considering our past: noticing it, learning from it, accepting it, fighting it, embracing it, forgiving it, imagining how it impacts us today. So often we ignore our past. Are we worried that it will trap us? Are we worried that it will prohibit us from growth and change going forward? Is it too painful? Does it feel too big? Are we ashamed or prideful about it? Are we simply just hyper-focused on the future? Is there anything that stops us from really facing our past? Do we need help to do this work? Sometimes we may because it really is work.
The brain tends to work in patterns. Our thoughts tend to follow along the familiar routes that we have established and cemented over many years of collected experiences, stories, and beliefs. Then our bodies and our emotions follow along that route as well. This is the framework for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: that our past, our patterns of thought that we’ve gathered over years of life, ultimately guide our decisions, our emotional responses, even our moods and choices today. This is where the exploration and research around neuroplasticity (or the brain’s ability to change the “wiring” or the pattern of thought) has come into its fullest importance. It seems to be that when we can uncover our past, understand our patterns, our defenses, our tendencies of thought, and when we invite change (in a variety of ways), we literally have the possibility to heal. Neuroscience! What a gift!
As a nation, we are being invited to look at our past. To look at it with courage and honesty and to feel the brutal pain of a country built upon the institution of slavery and colonialism and violence. Some of our sisters and brothers don’t need an invitation to look at it, the realities of racism slap them in their face day after day, and some of our sisters and brothers live in the privilege of forgetting. Some people in our country intend to ignore it, to minimize it, and this ultimately causes the inability to see racism and oppression in all forms as they are actively at play in today’s world. A person who is ignoring their past does not clearly see their present, they can not clearly see other people or themselves and they are unable to fully embrace compassion or empathy. We can use this macro picture of what is happening all over the country and we can point it inward for deeper understanding of what also happens for us on a personal or even a spiritual level. We must remember our past- it allows us to open our eyes to our present, where people and God live.
Suggestions for Action
Consider if there are parts of your past that you are ignoring. Can you identify what might stop you from acknowledging it? Do you need some help? Counselors or spiritual directors are people who can help bring awareness to your past and help unlink the ways that your past could be impacting your awareness of yourself today. Or, turn to your cell group or a good friend. If you want a private first step, begin by just saying out loud to God the piece of your past that you might be afraid of touching. Even just naming it can be a powerful step. God is waiting to meet you with compassion, forgiveness, justice, gentleness and love. Listen to how God responds to you and take God’s cue on how you could understand yourself through God’s response.
“Who are you Lord, and who am I?”
It’s Martin Luther King Day and Amy Carmichael Day! Learn and pray about Dr. King and his legacy, and Carmichael, a well known missionary on our sister blog, Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body.