Who are you O Lord, and who am I? This prayer or something similar is attributed to St Francis of Assisi, it reflected the ongoing seeking and soul searching that this humble Saint lived out following his life changing encounter with the risen Christ, he sought to live out his life in humility, poverty and service, but also with joy.
As we enter into Lent, yes it is day 3 but we are only on the edge of it. I am wondering how this prayer might become a gift to us, and yes I guess to me specifically. “Who am I?” is of course one of life’s big questions, asked by philosophers, theologians and many, many others, the deep question of the reason for our existence has played in the thoughts of humankind through the ages.
But Francis began with the question “who are you?”, addressing his question to the God in whom and through whom he found his meaning, it seems that his ongoing discovery that led him deeper and deeper was that he was, with all of his faults and flaws a beloved child of God, because the God that he found was loving, merciful, gracious and forgiving. That has me thinking, because many people I talk to do not experience God like that.
Too many it seems to me have a picture of an angry God, a God who is distant and judgemental, one who demands perfection from his subjects, a patriarchal tyrant ruling his kingdom with an iron rod, liable to throw around thunderbolts, and keeping us in check by making sure that we are fearful.
That this God is then rejected by many is unsurprising, and yet it seems that even those who would deny that this image is at the forefront of their relationship with God yet it is there lurking in the background and invading our thoughts and practices when we least expect it. When I hear people talk of the need to “get it right”, whether that is about a form of behaviour or when grappling with a theological answer, I see that God lurking. When I hear about the need to appear strong, and to be confident, to draw black and white conclusions, and in any conversation that denounces the “other” as sinful and unacceptable, that God is there.
As a self proclaimed perfectionist ( first child syndrome) , I have struggled with that God, I have worn masks, and told everyone in bright and cheerful tones that I am fine, when I have been far from it. My struggles have brought me to my knees, and led me through the wilderness of deep depression as one who could not measure up, until I encountered the one who had not asked me to measure up in the first place.
In my vulnerability I encountered a vulnerable God, one who has wept over his/ her people, one in whose heart there is a deep love and a longing that we might experience that love, receive grace and forgiveness so powerful that we might at last begin to love and accept ourselves. I love the story of the Lost Son, the image of the Father who throws convention to the wind and runs to his returning son enfolding him in an embrace and sweeping away any attempts at explanation. It is enough that the son has come to his senses and returned.
Who are you O Lord, and who am I? Perhaps the call this Lent can be for us to come to our senses, and to find ourselves as we are, already held in a loving embrace, already accepted, even with our faults and flaws, and to hear the words of a loving God spoken over us; “you are precious and honoured in my sight and I love you”. I heard those words this morning through a text message from a friend, the words simply said, “You are loved”, they woke me up by breaking into the creeping darkness of depression that has been hanging over me for a few months now. It is not a full blown can’t cope type depression, but it is real, and it is there and I can’t deny it. So today if you ask me who I am I can honestly say that I am not fine, I am weak, not strong, but I know that I am held by the vulnerable God who loves me more than I can express.
This vulnerable God who has been revealed in Jesus as the tiny babe, the man who hungered and thirsted, who shared his life with those around him, touching the untouchable, and breaking conventions and breaking down barriers to those who would have been excluded. I find my vulnerable God in the nail scarred hands and still wounded side of the risen Christ whose return to glory is still marked by his chosen vulnerability. This vulnerable God dreamt up the world in glorious diversity, allowing its brokenness to draw us to seek him, though many don’t, and yes the scriptures, especially the Old Testament are full of wars and struggles, destruction and pain, I believe that they are more about humanity’s struggle with themselves and naming/ claiming God as their right in a tribal divided world than they are about God’s self. The struggle it seems is ongoing, there is nothing new under the sun!
So this Lent my desire is to let go of my false images of the divine and of myself in order to find myself, to be emptied that I might be filled in a new way, to own my weakness, that I might find a new strength in that weakness, not a brittle strength, but one made of love, and lived through grace.
Who are you O Lord, and who am I?