One of the finest spiritual writers in the last fifty years was a man named Anthony de Mello. Like Jesus’ own use of parables, de Mello often turned to stories to explain the religious issues of our time. In a little book called One Minute Wisdom he shares this story:
One day the Master asked his disciples, What, in your opinion, is the most important of all religious questions?
He received many answers:
Does God exist?
Who is God?
What is the path to God?
Is there life after death?
No, said the Master. The most important question is: “Who am I?”
Who am I? How can this be such a great religious question when for me anyway, the answers are pretty simple? Who am I? I am a husband and father. I am a pastor and preacher. I am a musician, a singer, and storyteller. I am an extrovert who enjoys people and loves to laugh. I am deeply emotional and can get angry quickly. I enjoy sports and theater, going out to dinner with Melissa. I love playing with Benjamin, skating with Joey, and dancing with Rachel. This is who I am – not a very difficult question right?
Still, de Mello’s parable is getting at something much deeper than the hats I wear, or the jobs I do, or the hobbies that I enjoy. The most important religious question is Who am I at the deepest core of my being? Who am I apart from my relationships and work – apart from my talents and titles? Who am I when I stand stripped of everything that I use to define myself? Who am I?
Each year as a church we celebrate the Season of Lent to get us back to this question. The scriptures that make up the Lenten services are readings about people who discover who they are. We read each year about the people of Israel wandering in the desert, King David standing accused of murder before Nathan the prophet, Jeremiah and Isaiah calling out for repentance and justice, the Samaritan Woman at the Well, the man born blind, Lazarus, and so many others – these are the characters of our Lenten journey and all of them share a great secret. The secret is simply this – they are completely, absolutely and utterly dependent upon God! The characters of Lent understand who they are. They know that they are imperfect and broken. They realize that they have made terrible mistakes. They understand that their lives are not what they should be. They have come to realize that their one hope is God and God alone, and thus they are completely, absolutely and utterly dependent upon God.
So every year at this time we are asked to fast and pray and give alms (something for the poor) not because these things are good in and of themselves – NO! We do these things to remind us of who we are. When we fast from food we remember that all food is a gift from God, and that every bite we eat and breath we take is sheer grace and gift. When we pray we remember that we are not worlds onto ourselves but that we are creatures standing before the Creator. When we give to the poor we remember that all of our possessions and all of our wealth are given to us that we might give to others.
Everything we do in the Lenten Season reminds us of our dependence upon God and God alone. This Lent my morning prayer every day will begin with this question: Who am I? In my fasting, in my praying, and in my giving, perhaps I will realize what the great characters of scripture realized – that I am imperfect and broken, yet loved more than I could ever imagine and given a future greater than I could have ever hoped for. Who am I? I am, as you are, completely, absolutely and utterly dependent upon God!