Who am I?

It was early in the morning and still dark as I entered through the side door at Starbucks. The barista quickly handed me a steamy Tall Flat White. Despite the early hour, there were two women sitting at a table already in conversation. I sat down at a nearby table and opened my book of daily reflections.

While I tried not to listen, their voices were easily heard in the empty space.

I found myself drawn to their conversation. They were discussing one of the questions in life we all encounter: Who am I?

It’s a question we all ponder at some point in our lives. We often reflect on this question during major life transitions. In our grief as we move through loss, in our doubt as we move through uncertainty, and even in our happiness as we move through success.

One of the women at the table asked her companion: “I wonder if other people see me the same way I see myself?” When I heard this question, I was reminded of a quote I read earlier in the week: “If I saw myself as my friends and other people see me, I would need an introduction.”

I found myself reflecting on the conversation the next day. I had recently begun to study “The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.” Interestingly enough, the first exercise with my spiritual guide focused on: Who am I? The readings began with a perspective on the idea of three persons: the person I think I am, the person you think I am, and the person I really am.

The readings and reflection included a legend of an Indian boy who found an eagle egg. The boy decided to take the eagle egg home, where he placed it in a chicken’s nest. Eventually, an eagle hatched from the egg.

The baby eagle grew up with baby chickens. As a result, he believed he was a chicken. He behaved like a chicken: making chicken noises, scratching in the dirt, and desperately trying to fly yet only raising himself a short distance off the ground.

One morning, the baby eagle looked up in the sky to see a beautiful bird soaring. The baby eagle was amazed and said to one of the adult chickens: “What a marvelous bird!” The adult chicken replied: “That’s an eagle; he’s the king of the birds. Don’t get any silly ideas, you will never be an eagle and you will never be able to do what an eagle does.”

This legend prompted some reflection on my part. I wondered: Am I really an eagle who has adapted to the life of a chicken? Have I adapted so much to those around me that I’ve lost sight of who I really am? If I am an eagle who is happy being a chicken, is that really OK? Do I owe it to myself to spread my wings and soar like an eagle? Who am I?

In the Judeo-Christian story of creation, humans were created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest, shares: Our DNA is divine. The divine indwelling is never earned, it is only recognized and realized. “Who am I” is a gift from God and “What I become” is a gift back to God.

God knows us and loves us, not because of who we are, but because of who God is. God calls us by name even if we don’t understand: “Who am I?”

We hear in Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,

before you were born I set you apart;

I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Jer 1:5

There is a song titled: “Who Am I” by the Casting Crowns. In the opening verse, we hear: “Who am I that the Lord of all the Earth would care to know my name, would care to feel my hurt? Who am I that the Bright and Morning Star would choose to light the way for my ever-wondering heart? Not because of who I am, but because of what You’ve done. Not because of what I’ve done, but because of who You are! I am a flower quickly fading, here today and gone tomorrow, a wave tossed in the ocean, a vapor in the wind. Still You hear when I’m calling, You catch me when I’m falling. And you’ve told me who I am…”

As I reflect back on the early morning conversation at Starbucks, I was struck by the desire to see and understand: Who am I? – as an individual – in our relationship with others – and in a broader context of our place in the world.

Like the baby eagle, we may simply adapt to those around us or we could spread our wings and soar.

Teresa Schulz is a spiritual director, author, retreat facilitator and health care chaplain. She is the founder of Tools for Intentional Living and Transformation (TILT) and co-founder of MaineSpiritus. She can be reached by email at: [email protected] blog: mainespiritus.com