What complex things we human beings are. At any given moment we combine layers of experience, belief, fear, hope, love, truth, deception and so much more as we present ourselves to the world around. I love Whitman's poem ‘What Am I After All’ which seems to express something of that complexity of our identity, and encouraging us to consider who and what we are, and not just our external, but our internal complexities.
What Am I After All
What am I after all but a child, pleas'd with the sound of my own
name? repeating it over and over;
I stand apart to hear--it never tires me.
To you your name also;
Did you think there was nothing but two or three pronunciations in
the sound of your name?
Walt Whitman (1819-1892)
I am the new Rector of the Church of St John the Divine on Quadra Street, and I am feeling very grateful to have been welcomed to a new city and a new community with such grace and warmth. In moving not just from one Parish to another but to another Diocese, and another province, another country, another continent, I have been mulling over this question of who and what I am. Not in a conflicted crisis-of-identity kind of way, but in a relatively playful and thought provoking way.
The opportunity arises for me now to present myself in a very different way to the way I appeared in my previous life, I'm obviously still the same potato shaped bearded type, but I could (it seems to be) present myself pretty much as any kind of minister I like! I could play the tough, no nonsense type or the arty-farty type. I could be an all embracing team player or a lone wolf. I could be fire and brimstone,or insubstantial and ethereal. I could be hard, or cold, unrelenting, unbending, or warm, open, gracious.
In fact all of these I can be at any time. As I have grown older, and grown up, I have realised that though I can, if I wish, present in different ways by far the best is just learning to be me. Pretense, falsehood, deception, play acting take up so much energy, and mean trying to keep one's story straight all the time! It is quite hard enough learning who we are, and trying to be ourselves, so why waste energy on anything else?
And over these past years, as I have walked with Jesus, as I have grown in faith and understanding I realise that I am, in a way that I probably haven't been able to say before, happy with who and what I am. I am not claiming to have got beyond all of my faults and insecurities, nor beyond my need to feel loved and accepted, but I recognise that even for all my mistakes and shortcomings I am who I am meant to be. I am seeking authenticity, and I rest in the knowledge of a God who knows me better than I know myself loving me beyond all reason and beyond my understanding.
I am continuing on that journey of finding who I am meant to be in Christ. Not losing my own identity in the process, but being incorporated in the body of Christ and by Grace knowing what it is for my selfishness to decrease and Christ to increase.
Which brings me back to to my original question 'Who Am I' which can be taken in two ways. Firstly a question of identity, something that I will continue to explore through my whole life and especially at this time with the people of St John The Divine and my colleagues in the Diocese of British Columbia and the wider Church and Spiritual Community
Secondly there is a sense of unworthiness. Not a self-condemnatory sense, but a humbling sense of 'why?' to the question. Who am I that I have been called to this place and given this task? What gifts do I have to meet these challenges? Why does God love me and want me to do this?
Again, the heart of this, as a Christian and as a Priest, is to rest in the love and grace of God in Christ. And my challenge continues to be allowing that deep sense of God's love and forgiveness and graciousness to sink in. To remember that no matter how inadequate I feel, or how unworthy, or broken, or lost, there is a deeper stream of life and love that comes from the divine, from the heart of God.
Alastair McCollum is a West Country boy (south west England, that is), who has been an Anglican Minister since the mid 1990s in England - London, Rural Cambridgeshire and Rural Devon. He recently started serving as Rector of St John the Divine Anglican Church in Victoria and has moved here with his wife Jo and two young children. He has a passion for the Gospel, motorbikes and bike culture, worship, philosophy, theology, guitars, single malt whisky, real ale, cinema and all things French. You can find Alastair at the website: www.stjohnthedivine.bc.ca and on his blog: fracme.blogspot.ca
You can read more articles from our interfaith blog, Spiritually Speaking HERE