This morning I offer my thanks for Andrea Kastner and her thoughtful reflections on our SoulStream value of Personhood. Andrea, your invitation to “step into the flowing river of God’s already-present grace surrounding and filling us all” fills me with deep desire and strong hope. Thank you.
We are one in God, although we express God uniquely through our created personality. Every person is made in the image of God and therefore carries the presence of God at the very heart of their existence. Our very identity is freely given to us by God. We are God’s dearly loved children. We do not have to achieve our identity. We simply receive it. Therefore every person has dignity and worth regardless of race, gender, gender identity, sexual identity or orientation, religious beliefs or any other distinction, and every person is to be treated as the bearer of God’s presence in our world.
I wonder what the implications of this Value might be as we apply it to each of the relationships in our families, in our paid and volunteer workplaces, our churches, in friendships, with our neighbours? How does it look as we consider our relationships in our SoulStream community? It is a gripping question, I find, when I ask what it requires of me when I encounter those with whom I have differences, particularly in these times of increasing polarities. (In my own vocation of prayer for the world it is easier to lift up to God those who do evil and who I disagree with when I remember I share personhood with them.) And what does it mean to embrace our very own personhood? Can I show up as a person in my relationship with God and others? What does it look like in action in specific encounters when I am living out this value of personhood where dignity and worth lie deep in the core, underneath age, race, sexual orientation, theology, perspectives…?
To help me dig into these questions and thinking mainly about living them in community, I’m paying attention to two words that stand out particularly for me. One is “uniquely”: we each express God uniquely. Perhaps like me, when you think about people you know in our community you feel like dancing and cheering as you recognize how each person has their distinctive style and abilities and characteristics arising out of their individual stories and personalities. What an exciting variation of riches we share in! What distinctive wounds we each carry as well – the tender unique beauty that includes imperfections. Alongside our enjoyment of each other, we can be challenged by the ways in which we each also bring to community our unique unfinished and broken bits. In those times when the expression of the broken and unfinished bits causes us to forget the other’s personhood – or our own – and we cause hurt, our challenge is to remember we each are carrying the Divine Presence at our very core. Being part of community means being gifted with the opportunity to put this remembering into concrete practice – actions and words. Together we seek the help and mercy of God.
The second word standing out to me these days in our statement about Personhood is “identity”. Thomas Merton’s words about identity keep returning:
My true identity lies hidden in God’s call to my freedom and my response to [God]. This means I must use my freedom in order to love, with full responsibility and authenticity, not merely receiving a form imposed on me by external forces, or forming my own life according to an approved social pattern, but directing my love to the personal reality [the Personhood!] of my brother [and sister]… Contemplative Prayer (p.68)
Imagine! The freedom God is calling us to has already been given – we don’t have to work to get it, only receive it. With God’s help we can open ourselves more and more to the healing work of God’s Spirit who reminds us that we are not defined by the identities imposed on us by others in the past or by the culture surrounding us today. Can we see our lives as this adventure-filled opportunity to practice responding to this invitation to accept the freedom to be who God created us to be? How do we embody this freedom in our relationships as partners in our SoulStream community, and in all our other relationships each day?
As we see our community, and our relationships beyond, as locations of practice in living out the Value of Personhood, we experience again and again our need to offer grace to ourselves and to each other: practicing includes sometimes falling and failing. In this offer of grace we step into the flowing river of God’s already-present grace surrounding and filling us all. If each person I encounter – virtually and in person – has dignity and worth, I know I depend on God’s grace in order to be able to treat them – right here and right now – as a bearer of God’s presence. I pray that I, and that we all, might be led more and more deeply into that gut-level knowing that in our unique identities we are one in God.