The Rev. Geoffrey Butcher, Priest-in-Charge Trinity Episcopal Church, Russellville
January 16, 2014
One of the challenges of the spiritual life is to figure out who we are in the present moment. At baptism we are given an identity as a child of God and an inheritor of God’s kingdom. That provides a comforting framework for our continuing identity search, but since we are always in flux, the picture in the frame changes.
There is a tale from Attar of Nishapur, a twelfth century poet and mystic, that might provide a reflective thought:
The lover knocked at the door of his beloved. “Who knocks?” said the beloved from within.
“It is I,” said the lover.
“Go away. This house will not hold you and me.”
The rejected lover went into the desert. There he meditated for months on end, pondering the words of the beloved. Finally he returned and knocked at the door again.
“It is you.”
The door was immediately opened.
As with most wisdom stories, the meaning is contained in what the hearer hears. What is important is that one hears what one needs to hear.
I don’t know Attar’s meaning for this story, but if identity is to be found in relationship, intimacy blends the “I” and the “you.” The two share one identity. The Beloved’s identity becomes the identity of the lover; and the love they share becomes possible when the lover becomes selfless.
This identity is hard to imagine, let alone live. Few of us would dare to say to the Beloved – to God, “I am you.” We are too familiar with the weeds in our gardens. Any identity test would prove that we are wheat and weeds, imagery from one of Jesus’ parables. (Matt. 13:24-43)
But God offers us the gift of finding our identity as we were created in Eden — in the image and likeness of God. (Gen. 1:27) Our tendency is to think of ourselves and others as those thrown out of the Garden because of sin. Guilt then becomes our constant companion. But that is not the good news of Jesus. We are meant to “shine like the sun in the kingdom” of God. (Matt. 13:43) The light of Christ enlightens our lives.
How does one seek this union with God where our true identity is to be found?
It has been said, “The harder you seek, the more distance you create between (God) and you.”
“So what does one do about the distance?”
“Understand that it isn’t there.”
“Does that mean that God and I are one?”
“Not one. Not two.”
“How is that possible?”
“The sun and its light, the ocean and the wave, the singer and his song – not one. Not two.”
(Selected Writings by Anthony de Mello, p. 73)
That relationship, “not one — not two,” is the way many understand Jesus’ relationship with his heavenly Father. Jesus is the light of his heavenly Father; the wave of the ocean; the song of creation. And that is the same relationship that we are meant to have with our Creator. That doesn’t mean that we live only for the future. Our relationship with God has already been established. The light shines now; and with an open window, Light will absorb us. It’s an identity we might not imagine possible – and an identity that doesn’t compete with others to establish itself. There is enough light to go around for all to enjoy: God in you…God in me…God even in those who wear a “distressing disguise.” (Mother Teresa)