The ancients knew about the power of identity, the power of one knowing who they were, and the power of the self.
Without having a science called psychology to describe their inner world, they were still able to identify and claim a sense of themselves in such a way they could identify their essential and central being through referring to themselves as “I am.”
For a basic working knowledge about yourself – or your self as this should be understood – one should consider how the Greeks talked about these things.
For this, they used a particular term for “I am” (“egō eimi”) to signify that one could embrace a sense of self through such a simple phrase. This is the first person singular present tense of the verb “to be” in ancient Greek.
“Egō eimi” (pronounced just as you see it) was a well-known phrase used to help one identify themselves to others, to claim simply, “I am,” or, “I exist.”
But there’s clearly more going on here.
This assertion of identity of self, divine or human, always begins with one’s recognition of their existence. This is a basic, yet profound, affirmation of self that one asserts as a “raison d’être,” a reason for being.
One of the challenges of accepting the risk of maturity is to find this truth for oneself and to create a center of existence derived from this confidence.
At this stage of my life, I have a strong idea of how I might answer the question of being, “Who am I?”
I have been in pastoral ministry for four decades and the preaching minister at three churches and two denominations over most of that time.
I’ve formed my inner sense of self upon the lines of that calling in life to the point that I have fewer questions of worth or self-criticism.
I’ve made my peace with God and mostly with myself along the way, even though it wasn’t easy or without its awkward pains.
But today, we are living in a liminal period caused by COVID-19 where we are crossing over into a wholly new way of being. The old rules are not only gone, they are gone forever.
This will make our minor irritations about taking an airplane for business or pleasure in a post-9/11 world pale in comparison. The pandemic is uprooting everything we know about life, and we will be in varying degrees of lock-down and physical distancing for months ahead until we find the right anti-virus that will tame this demon virus.
And even beyond that hopeful discovery, we will never go completely back to the old world.
That raises all the questions of “I am” for everyone. This will redefine the nature of our work as congregational leaders and what it means to touch lives. It will define the nature of what happens in pews, in the welcome center, and in the parking lot.
“I am” a handshaker or a hugger or a backslapper will all necessitate a thoughtful reframing of how we see ourselves and how we see others. “I am” the one who puts a hand on someone’s shoulder who is in pain or struggling with some issue will need reassessment in this COVID-19 world.
More than that, churches have been jerked into a virtual online ministry that is created by individual contributors who may not even be in the same room (or even on the same day), creating the bits and pieces of a worship experience.
Preachers are squirreled away in their home study, down in the basement or perhaps preaching to an empty sanctuary that still echoes the warmth of the congregation’s embodiment of location.
What does it mean to embody an incarnational ministry when we’re sequestered from one another? What will this look like by next year at this time?
I have no idea and likely you don’t either.
Internally, in my inner self, what changes am I accommodating to make sense of this new world?
Likely it’s too early to make pronouncements, but it’s obvious the old is giving way to the new, and we must find the courage to accept this challenge.
This is the month of Pentecost and it can’t come at a more appropriate time. With all that said:
- I am the one wishing you clarity and courage as you explore these changes.
- I am the one hoping you will find the trailhead that leads you on the journey of discovery.
- I am the one who believes that we will be enriched and that God is moving us toward a new season of energy and hope.
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from his book, “Living a Narrative Life: Essays on the Power of Stories” (Smyth & Helwys).
Intentional interim minister at Countryside Community Church of Omaha, Nebraska, the Christian partner in the Tri-Faith Initiative, a partnership with the American Muslim Institute and Temple Israel. He is author of Living a Narrative Life, Exploring the Power of Stories (Smyth & Helwys, 2019).