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Speaking to the Soul: Who are you?

Speaking to the Soul: Who are you?

John 1:19-28

Among the first things a baby learns to say beyond “Mama,” “Dada,” and “No” is often the word “Me.” It becomes a very important word even if not used in the grammatically correct way. “Me” is key to identity, like “I” as a personal identifier. It’s all wrapped up in our makeup and how we see ourselves. Freud had lots to say about identities, but we don’t need to do a rehash of the Freudian psychological profiles right now

As we grow older we began to identify ourselves in a number of different ways. Beyond learning to respond to our name, we learn that we are the child of our parents, what our address is, what grade and school we attend, and so on. As we grow up we learn to identify ourselves in terms of new relationships: we are someone’s husband or wife, mother or father, someone’s friend, or acquaintance. We also identify ourselves by what we do: CEOs, secretaries, nurses, professional people, auto mechanics, and all shades of the spectrum of employment that earns our livelihood. We identify ourselves by our social standing, whether we are members of this country club or some organization. We also tend to identify ourselves by our economic standing in the community: we live in this gated community, or drive that particular make of car. Our children go to expensive colleges and universities, and we brag about how much we paid (or got a great deal on) our house or our boat or some other possession. All in all we’re conglomerations of identifications. Sometimes it’s a wonder we know ourselves at all.

John the Baptist was asked “Who are you?” by groups of religionists and hierarchs of the Temple.  They wanted to know because they were curious as to whether he was the one that was promised. He answered them that no,  he wasn’t. They kept asking, was he Elijah? Was he this person or that person? His answer was still no. John’s job was to be the forerunner of the coming Messiah. He had possibly known of this since childhood, or maybe not, but at this stage in his life he was very clear in his understanding of just who he was. He was a prophet, and that was that.

Each one of us has to learn to be precise in our identification of ourselves. It is easy to describe ourselves by what do, or what we earn, or to whom we are related. But to really answer the question “Who are you?”, that takes a little more doing.

To learn who we are requires a lot of soul-searching and a lot of thought. Are we a member of this or that profession, organization, family, or church? Is that all we are, or is that all we see ourselves as being? What about our abilities? How do we use them to describe who we are?  Are we successes or failures or something in between? What is it that makes us individual, different from everyone else even if we are similar in many ways. We are who we are, and one of the steps to maturity and wisdom is knowing that and accepting it or, if it can’t be accepted, then changing it.

We all say that we are children of God. That is part of our identification, part of what makes us Christian. Some will identify as Christian first and members of some denominations second, or others will introduce themselves as a member of the denomination and expect people to know that they were Christian. It’s a puzzle that needs to be well thought out.

Christmas is a time when we think about the birth of Jesus, a baby who, like all babies, had to learn to say mama, dada, etc. He wouldn’t have truly been a human being had he suddenly appeared from Mary’s womb speaking  perfectly correct 16th-century Shakespearean English. He had to go through learning process in order to be human; he already  knew what it was like to be God. Now he had to learn to be human even though he was still God,  just clothed in human flesh.

Jesus had to learn who he was so that if someone asked him, he could answer correctly. Possibly learning he was the son of God came to him early on in life, but perhaps it is also a slow learning process where he found that as a child he enjoyed hearing Scripture and learning them and then talking with the rabbis about the meanings of those scriptures. He must have caught on pretty quickly, but he had to go through a learning process. He knew who he was.

So how do we answer “Who are you?”

We, like John and  Jesus, need to know who we are. We need to take time to stop and think about it, look at the various ways that we use to identify ourselves, and then see where we may be cutting ourselves short or maybe giving ourselves too much credit.

Most of all, we need to learn who we are in terms of our relationship to God. It’s probably one of the most important identifications we can claim – or aspire to. Once we figure that out, we have an answer to “Who are you?”



Linda Ryan co-mentors 2 EfM Online groups and keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter.  She lives in the Diocese of Arizona and is proud to be part of the Church of the Nativity in North Scottsdale


Image: “John kiev” by ShakkoOwn work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.


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JC Fisher

“Christmas is a time when we think about the birth of Jesus, a baby who, like all babies, had to learn to say mama, dada, etc.”

In the case of Jesus, more than anyone else, it’s important to note that these first terms are both taught and having meaning imposed upon them (beginning as incoherent baby-babble). More important, because Jesus’s baby babble, “Abba”, has had the meaning of maleness imposed upon it: the identity of the First Person of the Trinity.

Take away that external imposition of meaning, and we see Jesus’s “Abba” as signifying—w/o regards to gender (or procreative link)—the relationship of TOTAL TRUST, infant to Guardian. “Our Abba, who art in Heaven…”

Linda Ryan

Well said, John Madison. If we use “Christian” as an identification, it seems like we’d better make sure we aren’t doing any false advertising…

John Madison

Sometimes, we as disciples of Jesus may be asked by others, “Who are you”, simply to bait us into crowing. That is when we may want to be slow in answering. That may be when we should try to answer in a subtle, yet authentic way, “I exist to prepare the way for another”. That is when we will learn that it is not impossible to have the mind, “He (another) must increase; I must decrease”, and still know who we are. Because if it is, then the words of Jesus about being last in order to serve are only a clanging symbol.

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