Who cares about identity?
What does it mean to find our identity in Christ? We are constantly invited to take up our position as children of God, members of the Body of Christ, and participators in the new creation. However, for our disorientated generation these phrases seem nebulous and defy rationalisation. It is perhaps unclear how being a child of God should intersect with our identity and it is especially uncertain what identity actually is.
Often when we speak of identity we think about our qualities and actions. We describe the attributes and behaviours we present to ourselves and the outside world, characteristics which differentiate ourselves from our contemporaries. However, I can’t help but feel that there is more than this, that there is an extra and more unshakeable depth to who I am. I long for something more meaningful than a list of attributes that securely place me in a religious-socio-economic unit. In other words, I desire an identity which is deeper, richer, and more fundamental than the sum total of my thoughts, words, and deeds.
We certainly discover such deep identities in those around us- it is the feeling of home-coming in the custody of the paternal figure or the arms of our most-loved companions. In those treasured moments of mutual dispossession and vulnerability we know that person on a level which comes before and after their words and actions, we discover the core of who they are. Our best loved writers and witch-doctors call it soul, presence, or energy. Each of these words point to something we have discovered in moments of intimate encounter but are too inward, too great and too deep-rooted for our minds to grasp. Just as we discover and treasure the unshakeable identities of others, so too can we know and love our fundamental selves.
Life is incomprehensible without knowledge of our inner-most selves. On the one hand we are crushed by the need to bring ourselves into being by aligning our behaviours and thoughts with an arbitrary ideal. On the other, we are unable to escape the loss of self, the crushing echo in our hearts that suspects we are but hollow creatures. Life in such disarray is a moveable feast. With no permanent anchors we switch between excess and austerity, promiscuity and celibacy, foundation-less religiosity and nihilism. We are doomed to drift forever with no sure anchor for our souls.
However, this morbid tale points to a great hope of life in which we know ourselves as Christ knows us, of a steadfast and stable relationship with our innermost selves, of a life where we can fulfil who Jesus has called us to be. The biblical writers circle around this idea of identity in Christ, they describe some of the manifold ways in which God knows us: ‘a joint-heir with Christ,’ ‘a new creature in Christ,’ the ‘temple of the Holy Spirit.’ Like poetry these different statements spiral around the issue, constantly pointing to something which can never be captured by words. In these moments, words run out and we are left in perplexity- there is a gap between these passages and the great hope they communicate. We are drawn into silence. Then, in this divine stillness we encounter the presence of God, we sense the deep presence and identity of our Lord and Creator, we begin to know God in a manner that precedes words and actions.
In these moments of encounter, as we stare into the loving eyes of our Saviour, we begin to discover ourselves in his reflection. Prayer becomes a gradual revealing of our fundamental being. Each time we come to Him we chip away at the edges of our self-perception, it is as if we are slowly cleaning a mirror, and over time we reveal our true identity staring back. An identity which is far deeper than anything we say, or do or think. A true self which is held in the unquestioning and unconditional acceptance of the Lord. Through prayer, we find ourselves as God sees us.