I feel that chapter 9 may be the most important chapter to read and reread in this book! It is called, “Remember Who You Are: Discerning Identity.” It is probably a universal experience to go through life asking the core question of, “Who am I?” I think of so many beloved stories, tales, and now movies that also deal with this question. We relate and connect to a character’s thoughts and actions as they search to discover and live out their true identity and we are drawn in. For Nouwen, spiritual discernment of our identity is in the claim that we are God’s beloved.
Nouwen references scripture often here as there are many quotes that bring this to bear and make a way for us to hear that we are the beloved daughters and sons of God. A central part of God’s story through Jesus is that we hear this for ourselves and live with that central core identity. It can be difficult to do in a culture and society today where we live out of so many constructed identities and realities. With the advent of social media, each person or institution can work on constructing what we want the world to see us as and claim attributes and an identity we desire. All the while trying to ignore anything else that may claim otherwise but having little control of what is posted or available to the world through the Internet.
We may feel the burden of being defined by our past, our achievements, our mistakes, our abilities, our family roles, or any number of other things we weigh our value or worth on and assigns a place of belonging or exile. Through reading this chapter we may discover or rediscover a theology and faith that reveals our core identity is in relationship to God as beloved children and having a place in the life and “family” of the divine. Some have said that the Bible is God’s love story or love letter to us. Even though much of the Bible as history etc. doesn’t feel like it fits this analogy, it can help remind us that the Bible makes sense through an existing acknowledgement and relationship with God. Certainly, some passages can meet our need for love and belonging as we see ourselves in the story and hearing the words of love from a loving God to and for us.
How does this relationship with God come about? We receive it like a gift. We open and enjoy it. It is not something we seek to attain or work toward. We accept it and acknowledge the relationship. Then the hard work is claiming it to the core where we live out of this beloved identity all the time and not get lost or distracted by something else. Yet, our brokenness is often revealed as humans where we are prone to stray and seek our own way and our own identity apart from anyone or anything else. One reality check is remembering that the Earth and universe does not revolve around us, and that truth is freeing.
So, we ask ourselves, “What is the center of our universe?” and “What is my identity in relation to that identity?” Nouwen writes that we are restored to our true selves as Jesus came into the world to give us a new spiritual life. A new identity of our true selves, no longer dependent on fragile and changing things of this world but rather on the eternal love between the Father and the Son which is experienced as the Holy Spirit. There is perfect unity in love and then we know God’s heart and spiritually discern who we are in relation to God and to see the world as God sees it. We are God’s beloved children. The marker of this is often Baptism where words and promises are made in community by God and others present. Being grounded in the waters of Baptism often helps provide a stable place to return and be refreshed as we are called to take on so many other roles in our daily living.