First Reading: Isaiah 49: 3, 5-6
Responsorial Psalm: 40: 2, 4, 7-8, 8-9, 10
Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 1: 1-3
Gospel: John 1: 29-34
WHO AM I: A TIME OF ENCOUNTER
Who am I? As a child, I often asked myself this question. I found myself questioning who am I and wondering why I felt so uncomfortable in my own skin. While my parents tried to reassure me of my value, there were times that I felt I was not smart enough, or pretty enough or wondered why I seemed to be more emotional than my siblings or peers. As an African American child growing up in the social unrest of the late sixties and seventies, I remember the sense of anxiety I felt about the world around me. As I remember those days, I also know that part of this unease was due to the fact that we moved a lot and it became harder and harder to put down roots as well as develop relationships with my peers. This, as well as the trauma of the unexpected death of my father due to illness when I was 10 years old, resulted in my becoming more self-conscious and hesitant in developing relationships. I then began turning inward and found sanctuary in books and my imagination. Because of my love of scripture (one of the books I read intensely was the Bible), at 16, I became a lector in my Church and this began a process in which I began to open myself up to that sweet sweet Holy Spirit of God. Through the journey in prayer, spiritual direction, the support of mentors, volunteer service and my studies, there came an unfolding of my heart which allowed me to then begin to accept and love myself and my own shortcomings. This led me on a further journey of discovery in which I began to understand my role and mission in this world. I moved beyond my anxiety and dis-ease which ultimately led me to teaching and ministry in the Church. I reflect back on this personal history as I encounter these readings for the 2nd Sunday of Ordinary Time. The readings this Sunday open a door to three very different perspectives on a relationship with God and self.
The first reading from Isaiah attributed to an anonymous exilic prophet and writing in the tradition of the Isaiah shows God speaking to the prophet’ in an intimate way. God speaks to the heart of the prophet and gives encouragement and strength during a time of great need. In many ways the prophet is talking and reassuring himself that he has what he needs within to do the work of the Lord. The reading from Paul reminds us that because of our encounter with Christ, we are called to be holy while the Gospel gives us a glimpse into John the Baptist’ encounter and acceptance of Jesus as the” Lamb of God and its impact on his journey.
African American mystic and theologian Howard Thurman writes of self-encounter1. He asks, when was the last time you had a good session with yourself?
As Thurman writes, there comes a time when you are led into the closet with yourself. It is here that you raise the real questions about yourself. The leading one, “What is it after all that I amount to ultimately?” He writes that such a question cuts through all that is superficial and trivial in life to the very nerve center of yourself. Thurman further states that this is a religious question because it deals with the total meaning of life at its heart. At that moment and that time, you must discover for yourself what is the true basis of your self-respect. This is found only in relation to God, whose presence makes itself known in the lucid moments of self-awareness. For all of us are God’s children and the most crucial clue to knowledge of God is to be found in the honest and most total knowledge of self.
This sense of self, this identity is the total sum of our life experience. It is our history and our context. Today in the midst of our global reality, with such challenges as xenophobia, racism, homophobia, hostility towards immigrants, nativism, all forms of violence – global, local and domestic, suspicion and fear of those in government, sexism, global warming, fear and isolation, etc., how do we respond to the questions of “Who am I? Who am I called to be in this time and place? Am I being called to be a light? Will I speak prophetically on behalf of justice?” Tough questions to be sure, but if you have the courage to enter into a time of self-encounter on this day, the answer may surprise you. Are you willing to go on this journey with the Spirit this day?
Assistant Professor of Spirituality and Ministry
1 Howard Thurman, For the Inward Journey (Richmond, IN: Friends United Press), 24.