You Gotta Be Who You Is

“You gotta be who you is, and not who you ain’t!”  said an old gentleman living in the Deep South, with a deep rumbling laugh.  “Because if you ain’t who you is, then you is who you ain’t.  And that ain’t good.” 

These words recently appeared in an article by William Barry, SJ in Presence (quoting a homilist, John Kerdiejus).  I love them!  And I can imagine this old gentleman, can’t you?  Go, Deep South! 

The human journey, the spiritual journey, and every form of companioning of others from spiritual direction to coaching to mentoring to counseling – these all seem to be about fostering a faithfulness to our unique and true identity as we uncover it more and more fully, created as “God’s work of art” (Eph. 2:10, NJB). 

Intended to be, we are.  And when we ain’t what we are, we’re not.  Whatever we is, is.  So much of life is about coming around to the place where we can live from and in truth, and relax in what is.  For some, what has impacted the artwork of our lives is difficult or painful.  For most, we don’t understand significant things.  For all, our view of the whole is limited.  We know so little, and aspire to know so much.  We are like one small leaf on a redwood trying to understand all the varieties of plant life here throughout history and perhaps anywhere throughout the yet uncharted universe.  The leaf does better finding out about plant life by being the part of the plant life it is…  humble, yet amazingly beautiful – reflecting the macro in the micro.  Whatever is our is, our truth is deeper than our experiences and our wounds and our joys.  We are, and we are mystery with a touch of magic!  Stardust!

And we are pilgrims on the way home.  And we do best inhabiting our own bodies, lives and pilgrimages.

The Celts speak of thin places – places between here and the reality beyond and within the reality.  They are mystic places where there is a sense of the deepness and vividness of all levels of life.  It reminds me of some of C.S. Lewis’ descriptions of Narnia, particularly in the last book, The Last Battle.  There is a traveling “further up and further in” that the Narnian characters and the English children experience, and a beautiful vividness to the world apparent.  These places and experiences help us get a whiff of the mystery of our truest created selves.  We do well to cultivate the practices that bring us to recognize places like these on our lives’ pilgrimages.

I wonder if in your and my human wanderings we don’t catch a periodic scent of something we recognize to be simultaneously where we’ve come from and where we’re going.  We feel a passing sense of HOME in a way deeper that we can well describe.  We experience moments when we know that we are “fearfully, wonderfully made” (Ps. 139), and that our being is stretching and kicking and expanding and growing (like the child in the womb of the same psalm!).  And though life brings so many many questions, living in response to these moments of truth about our deepest identity is the way we safely travel.

‘Cause it “ain’t good” if you ain’t who you is. 

In this, the advice in the Gospel of Matthew to look to the birds or the flowers informs me.  The scriptural segment is often headed ‘depending on God’s providence’ – God’s particular care for us.  Today I sat by a pond at a retreat center watching the water run over the rocks, enjoying beautiful small purple flowers (purple is my favorite color!), seeing white butterflies, and listening to insect song.  All of nature just wonderfully was what it was – and each part and the whole was beauty.  And we are invited to remember.  Aren’t we much more than the sparrows or the lilies?  Are we not created beauties, wonderful not because of what we do or don’t do, but because we are first loved and absolutely intended, and utterly cherished and clothed? 

If who we is is a remembering of this sense of who we are, then our remembering is a song of praise to the Creator who delighted in dancing us forth.  And in knowing who we is, we can help and invite others to remember who they are, so they can be who they are and not who they aren’t!   Conversely, how miserable we all are in the busy conniving to be what we are not – which leads us to be nothing!

So, what will help you, help me, help all of us on the human pilgrimage right now to be who we is?  And how do we get unstuck from what keeps us from such truth, such honesty?  What are we afraid of…   what do we resist…  and do we seek the help we need on the journey?  Are there actions that can increase our attentiveness to now?  And how do we assist others, while we continue to live more deeply and true-ly ourselves? 

For wouldn’t it be wonderful to relax in the truth of who you is as God’s work of art, and spend less on any complicated machinations?   And wouldn’t it be wonderful to relax with our community of worldwide companions as they too live not to prove or to get to or to claim or overpower, but to be.

I hope the human community as a whole can better be faithful to who we is…  and live that way, in love.

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