In seeking answers to the ageless questions, my exploration can only be partial, because, creature that I am, I cannot fully plumb the depths of truth. “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.” (1 Corinthians 13:12.)
There are, I suppose, many ways to answer the question of who I am. Here are 4 common ways in which I could identify myself: A.) Christina Chase. B.) Offspring of Daniel and Francine. C.) Person with a physical disability. D.) Avid thinker, reader, writer, nature watcher, football follower, amateur genealogy researcher, and practitioner of the Christian faith.
Well, there, now. I seem to have told you a lot about myself. But… there’s a problem. Is this who I am – or are these facts about myself? If I’m telling you about me… then, who is this me?
Let’s look more deeply.
A.) The most convenient and predictable answer to “Who are you” is to give one’s name. So: I am Christina Chase. But, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet.” (William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.) And, hey, what if I witnessed a Mafia murder and had to go into the Witness Protection Program? (What – it could happen….) Then, I could no longer identify myself as Christina Chase. My answer to who I am would have to change. Truly, a name doesn’t speak immutably to who I am. When Moses asked God for His name (perhaps he was expecting Ra or Osiris or Baal or something) God replied, “I AM WHO I AM… Say this to the people of Israel: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” This identity is immutable, unchangeable to the core, for God is Being Itself. The word “God” is simply an English word that we use to make things easier when we are considering Ultimate Reality. God who causes to be, creates, by any other name, IS. In this mysterious sense of being, I, having been brought into being, might answer the question of who I am with this: I am a living being .
B.) Another common way of identifying myself would be as the offspring of Daniel and Francine. But – what if I found out in later years that I had been adopted? Would this rock my world so violently that I wouldn’t even know who I was anymore? Do we too often identify ourselves as belonging to another human being? Like Joe’s mother or Rob’s wife or Cindy’s brother or Helen’s child. Sometimes, people who do this for too long say that they lose the sense of who they are. We are, naturally, social creatures and belonging is part of who we are – perhaps there’s nothing wrong with this kind of identification. But… to whom do I really belong? If I’m going to identify myself in the depths of my heart, in an infinite and eternal way, then I should refer to my primary relationship – my very source relationship. Therefore, I am a child of God.
C.) Many people identify themselves by their professions: I am a plumber, I am a teacher, I am a judge, I am a sales rep. I was once a student, but the progression of my motorneuron disease severely weakened me so that I could not devote functional amounts of time to reading and writing. (I now use a dictation system, but still can’t stay in the right positions to use it for very long.) Having a defective gene that causes severe physical disability, I could say that I am disabled. But, I know that’s not who I am. If a plumber, teacher, judge, or sales rep becomes injured or ill and can no longer do the same job – does that person stop being who he or she is? People can feel a kind of loss of identity in these kinds of circumstances and they certainly have my sympathy – but the change doesn’t make the person someone else. We should never define ourselves by what we can’t do, if we ever want to know who we truly are. And what we do is not who we are.
D.) That brings us to my list of some of the things that I enjoy doing. But, since what I do is not who I am, let’s look at this as a list of joys. We could say that these are things that speak to me, touch me deeply, or make me feel alive – all common phrases that we use for the passions, hobbies, and appreciations of our lives. I used to enjoy drawing very much – until the progression of my disease rendered my always delicate hands to weak. So, I also lost this little joy. What if… What if I suffered a traumatic brain injury and lost my ability to see… to hear… to comprehend…? How would I then consume beauty or ponder truth? This is, to me, the most difficult question. It’s a frightening situation that any one of us could find ourselves in: able to survive but unable to live in the way that we once knew as living. Would I no longer be me? Is who I am completely dependent upon communication with other humans and intellectual capacity? Who is “I”?
Who is the I that says – my life, my body, my choice, my family, my talents, my joys, my thoughts, my cheeseburger? Who am I?
Getting a bit mystical now…
I am a dewdrop upon a spider’s web, becoming clear in shape in a moment’s suspension, so that the sun’s light may shine through in brilliant definition.
Hopefully, this doesn’t sound like a pantheistic kind of understanding – for I do not believe that we are emanations of the same being, merging, submerging, reemerging. No. What I know is that each human being is a unique individual. And we all have the same Source. I didn’t make myself. I was brought into being by the Uncaused Cause; I was particularly made by the Uncreated Creator – who we call God. And I believe that I was intentionally willed into being by Divine Will, created personally in the Divine image and likeness. I am, by nature if not by ability, a rational being, I am a human person. Animated by a spiritual soul – I am of spirit.
I am an image of God.
As an image of God, I am an image of truth: for everything that is comes from God – and what is unchangeably true but God who IS, always and forever? As an image of God, I am an image of love: for God willingly gave of Godself in creating the universe and in creating each one of us in the Divine Likeness with the gift of free will and an imperishable soul. Although we humans inherently use our free will to turn away from truth and to turn away from love – thinking that we will invent ourselves and claim the world as our own – God calls us back to truth and love, calls us back to Godself so that we may be fully and truly ourselves, fulfilled as Divine Images. By becoming one of us through the Mystery of the Incarnation, Christ, who is God Incarnate, sanctifies all of humanity, all of humankind, no matter what our physical, mental, or emotional capacities. Through his love, Christ restores our spiritual capacity. Only in our spiritual capacity can we have any kind of knowledge of who we are. We know only in part and what we know is not something that we can see in our DNA or that we can put in a resume or social media profile. “Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I am fully known.” Redeemed and restored by Christ, we will come to know the Father, we will be brought into the infinitely intimate presence of God when we are raised up from mere facts and share in the glory of Christ. Then we will see ourselves as God sees us and know completely to whom we belong. We are and we will be.
Above, in my list of joys, I stated that I am a practitioner of the Christian faith. Even if I lost my ability to practice – which is a doing thing – read the Bible, attend Church liturgy, receive Sacraments, or pray with any kind of comprehension, this is one identity that I can only lose if I choose to. When I was baptized I was born anew, born from above – and that’s an indelible seal upon who I am. Beyond the material ability to form words, concepts, and actions, I could still be exactly who God created me to be: an image of God restored through Christ – God’s child.
Although crippled by disease, I'm fully alive in love. I write about the terrible beauty and sacred wonder of life, while living with physical disability and severe dependency. A revert to the Catholic faith through atheism, I'm not afraid to ask life's big questions. I explore what it means to be fully human through my weekly blog and have written a book: It's Good to Be Here, published by Sophia Institute Press.