The hymn ‘Love Unknown’ has the line ‘O who am I that for my sake my Lord should take frail flesh and die?’
We have all had those ‘Who am I?’ moments when we questioned almost everything about ourselves. And in some ways these questions are still with us but in a more powerful and social form. Yet the question of where our identity abides remains. Is it in social background and what our parents did and thought? What about nationality – and how do we really define that, and with what limits or exclusions? Are we Scottish and European but not British, and if so what does that really mean? What about education and occupation – yet with the availability of adult education courses even the number and quality of our exam passes and university degrees end up being qualified by the onrush of new understandings of existing subjects and the need for Continuing Professional Development. Even past education fails as a definer. Then there is gender, sexuality, orientation and preference – and all are minefields.
But perhaps the most insistent form of our self-identification is in the wrongs we have suffered, and the injuries that we continue to nurse. It is one thing to bear the scars of difficult encounters of the past, whether these are in the family or at school or at work. They also apply to the church and the resentments arising from difficult relations with our clergy. Indeed, the more defenceless we are then the more we still carry the burdens and the scars of the injuries of the past.
It is one thing to carry these burdens and memories – but it is quite another to allow them to define our sense of who we are and of who we are not. When that sense of grievance leads us into thinking that another person is necessarily opposed to us, or owes us a debt of some kind, or has some kind of moral obligation towards us, then we run the risk of being emotionally and spiritually weakened, possibly crippled.
And when that sense of grievance is directed not at a person but at a social group, a social class or racial group then the matter becomes serious and even dangerous. These were the sentiments that led to the Holocaust and to massacres in Rwanda, Sebrenica, Cambodia, and indeed in our own land to the Troubles of Northern Ireland.
Within the Christian faith, we belong to one another regardless of national or social or racial identities. Paul wrote about this when writing to the church in Corinth (I Cor 12). Jesus made a point of selecting a socially and economically and culturally diverse group to be His disciples. But more than that He calls on us to come to Him and lay down our burdens and to receive His forgiveness and healing. That includes our memories and the more intimately painful they are, then the more He desires us to bring them before Him, no matter how much they may have become.
This is all part of the life that He came to bring us: ‘I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’ (John 10: 10)