who are you?

Who are you? Many of us answer this question first with our shorthand identity statements. I am a white, gay, Christian, cis-gendered, male monastic. Next with our ideological statements. I am a progressive, feminist, anti-racist socialist. Next with our professional and avocational statements. I am a gardener, knitter, baker, reader, writer, and lover of the natural world. These labels make for quick statements of identity, and they do describe certain commitments and experiences that shape who we are and how we see the world. They outline where our loyalties lie, and also where our blind spots may be. But language conceals as much as reveals truth. The quick and easy identity labels belie our hidden depths. They don’t have space for our desires, longings, hurts, fears, joys, and gratitudes. None of these experiences can be easily captured with language.

I wonder what would happen, when next asked the question “who are you?” we answered “I don’t know.” Such is the most basic and honest answer to an unbelievably complex and personal question. Given our current political, social, and ecclesial realities, we need more honesty of this kind. We need to commit more fully to our silent, even reverent unknowing.

Our political discourse gets noiser with every passing day. We live in a political system that reduces human beings to numbers and colors on a map. When we identify so fully with the labels applied to us, when we actually revel in those labels, we collude with the system of empire that would dominate us and the rest of the world. Perhaps our best response, for now, in the cauldron of our national life, is a silence that holds space for the fullness of our–and everyone else’s–human experience.

Such silence does not mean silence in the face of evil and oppression. But it does mean that before leaping into the political fray, we might give space to touch down into our personal and social depths, to the longing for justice and wholeness and peace that connects us across political and social divides. American Christianity today can witness to this capacious silence.

The gospel reading this last Sunday struck me, particularly given our current political realities in America. When John sends his disciples to ask Jesus if he is the Messiah, Jesus responds, “Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind recover their sight; the dead are raised to life; and the poor are hearing the good news.” What an answer! John, like much of the people of Israel (and many of us today), wants a savior who will be both political and cosmic destroyer of evil and oppression. Instead, he finds a savior who enters fully into human life, not to teach us how to transcend our humanity, but so that we may learn to live it fully.

It is this humanity that is our most basic connection with one another. In reality, none of us knows who we are. We are all like the Christ child in Mary’s womb, growing to fullness with every passing season. God waits patiently in the growing darkness for our light to be born, so many stars shining in the black sky of our world. Maybe we can wait with God in silent hope and expectation for our deepest selves to rise up. What a revolution that would be.


This reflection is the third in a series of three Advent reflections on fasting. Two weeks ago I wrote about personal dimensions of fasting and last week on ecclesial dimensions.

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