As we safari through the wilderness of our beings, we are bound to come upon some weeds and debris that we will need to cut through to create a path to answering the all-illusive question: Who am I? This is probably the most dreaded job interview question that almost every interviewer asks, and for which there is no real correct answer.
Sure there is a lot of information out there on how to answer the question–Who am I?–in a job interview from talking about where you are from, your values and personality traits to expounding on your biggest accomplishments, the people you admire, and the lessons you have learned. I have probably used all of those in an interview at one time or another. However, to get to the truth, we have to look not only at how we answer the question, but at how a society that is organized by race, class, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, religion, political party, ideological viewpoint, etc., attempts to define and mis-define who we are based on those factors.
Needless to say, the default answer to the Who am I? question in everyday conversation usually begins with a reference to what one does. That is totally understandable as we live in an externally-focused, competition-prone, and success-driven world. Nevertheless, that is not who you are, because you are NOT what you do, which brings to my mind the story of Mary and Martha found in Luke 10:38-42.
So, if you are not familiar with this story, Martha invites Jesus to her house, busies herself with the preparations, and catches a major attitude because her younger sister Mary is sitting and listening at Jesus’ feet…the nerve of her! In my divine imagination, I fancy that Martha approached Jesus with a forceful neck roll, as she triangulated him and demanded that He tell Mary to help her. Jesus replies acknowledging Martha’s state of worry “about many things”–probably not just this situation–and says to her that only one thing is “needed” and that Mary had chosen “what is better.” In direct opposition to society’s obsession with doing, achieving, and accomplishing, Jesus sided with Mary who chose being as the one thing needed.
Honestly, we all have a Mary and a Martha inside, and while Jesus acknowledges the importance of doing with our physical muscles, He prioritizes the importance of being that exercises our spiritual muscles. While Martha was doing religion, the kind that is about duty and grounded in”I have to do it to be acceptable,” Mary was being in relationship, the optimal kind that is about devotion and grounded in “I choose to do it out of love.” Both duty and devotion are needed, but spiritual balance and synchronicity come from duty that is driven by devotion and not the other way around. Martha was serving and doing good, but Martha’s identity was tied to what she did and not who she be, and as a result, she became a Mrs. Fix-It for her sister, while Mary sat at the feet of Jesus from a standpoint of Fix Me. Mary knew that the essence of who she be is spirit…so, she sat at the feet of the Master Guru, through whom she could access that truth.
This Lenten Safari is about accessing that truth and although I use a lot of biblical stories because they are so rich and layered, the truth is universal and no one has a monopoly on it. So, let me give you three truths we can glean from Mary…
- Approach your Higher Power with an open heart not busy hands
- Choose to take time for devotion and listen with your whole being
- Transform your sense of duty so that it is driven by devotion (motivation matters!)
At the end of the day, it is not about doing what is expected based on societal norms or identity myths propagated by those in power for their selfish interests…but it is about being who we are–being our own standard. According to Hip Hop artist and modern-day prophet Lauryn Hill, “we were created to be individual standards”–not to conform to any external standard. Another one of my favorite artists, India Arie, in her song entitled I Am Not My Hair puts it this way: “I am not my hair; I am not this skin; I am not your expectations, no…I am the soul that lives within.” At the core of our individual standards, there is more to the essence of who we are than meets the eye or can be confined by norms.
Now, I have provided some food for thought and reflection on who you are not and who you are, but I have not resolved the inquiry for you. Answering the question Who am I?, however, is an on-going, never-ending process that each of us must engage intentionally and continuously.
Tara LaShawn Seabrook is a self-proclaimed “free spirit,” a public, practical, and prophetic theologian; a spiritual and social justice activist; a creative and cultural artist; and a prolific teacher, speaker, and writer. Currently, she resides in Guatemala where she is finishing up a 2-year volunteer in mission commitment with a non-governmental organization before returning to her native Charleston, SC in the spring of 2017. Her book based on her original poem, “I Am She: The Anthology” will be released later this year.