“The Quaker teacher Douglas Steere was fond of saying that the ancient human question ‘Who am I?’ leads inevitably to the equally important question, ‘Whose am I?’–for there is no selfhood outside of relationship. We must ask the question of selfhood and answer it as honestly as we can, no matter where it takes us. Only as we do so can we discover the community of our lives.
As I learn more about the seed of true self that was planted when I was born, I also learn more about the ecosystem in which I was planted–the network of communal relationships in which I am called to live responsively, accountably and joyfully with beings of every sort. Only when I know both seed and system, self and community, can I embody the great commandment to love both my neighbor and myself.” (pp. 17-Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer)
I love that excerpt from the book. It really expands the whole concept of identity and vocation as being simply about “me”, “I”, et cetera and expands it to the community and the relationships that we have. It is one thing to ask questions about and wrestle with what I should do, but it’s a completely different thing to ponder about whom I’m to live out my vocation before, and from whom am I to gain a sense of identity from. For Palmer and others, any sense of identity comes from the relationships that we are a part of, and outside of those relationship, we do not get a clear picture of our own identity.
Let’s play this out:
- As Christians we gain our sense of identity in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Outside of this relationship with Jesus Christ our lives bear no meaning and our sense of calling, vocation and work is lost. Think about who you would be without your relationship with Jesus Christ? Is it Christ that helps give shape to your identity and meaning to your vocation and calling?
- In the first couple of chapters of Genesis something interesting is happening here as well in regards to relationship. Before Eve we see Adam as something entirely different. The Hebrew refers to him as more like an “earth creature” or that which comes from the ground. He is basically without identity or selfhood. And it is only when Eve comes that Adam moves from “earth creature” to Adam, or from “earth creature” to man. Without relationship Adam is simply without selfhood, with Eve, they become man and woman. This identity forms and gives shape to their life, selfhood and vocation.
- Or think of the theological term, perichoresis which is used to express the triune relationship between the members of the Godhead. It expresses their mutuality and reciprocity amongst each other as members of the Godhead in this beautiful triune relationship.
- At the baptism of Jesus, Mark 1:9-11, we see the relationship between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit as Jesus is sent out into the wilderness to prepare for his vocation/ministry. His identity comes out of his relationship between the members of the Godhead.
Obviously, there is a lot to be said here and many have said these things better than me. But one of the things we must question and wrestle with when it comes to our vocation and identity is, “Whose am I?” Who are the people and the community that I belong to? Knowing this answer, or at least wrestling with the answer can often guide us in the right direction. We were not created to exist simply as individuals, so that we can do our own thing and act on our own whims. We have been created to exist in community and to live out our calling and vocation among others.
“Whose are you?” That is where much of the journey begins.