I'm Not Who I Thought I Was
I love this exchange from Alice in Wonderland. The caterpillar and Alice look at each other a long time in silence. Finally, the caterpillar asks: “Who are YOU?”
Alice replies rather shyly: “I—I hardly know, sir, just at present—at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.”
There are times when change happens so quickly, we don’t even know who we are anymore.
On the feast day for our namesake, Holy Trinity . . . on a day with a baptism and a Jewish naming ceremony, how good to reflect on the name of a person, the name of a church, or even the name of God.
Most of us want to know our roots. No wonder people are turning to things like ancestry.com. But what if—out of the blue—you receive news that reveals that you are not who you thought you were? That is what happens to a character named Sookie in Fannie Flagg’s delightful and quirky novel, The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion.
Nothing could have prepared Sookie to get the news: you are not who you think you are. At age sixty, Sookie learns that she is adopted, and her father is unknown. And she freaks. After all, her birth mother’s last name is Jurdabralinksi and all her relatives are from Pulaski, Wisconsin!
She tells her husband: “My life is over. I’ll never be the same as long as I live. . . Yesterday I was a Southern Methodist English person, and today I’m a Polish Catholic person with an unknown father.”
The only thing Polish that Sookie knows is the little Polish sausages she eats at the Waffle House. She googles Pulaski, Wisconsin and discovers it has the largest polka festival in the country. Since it is close to Green Bay where people paint themselves green, sit in freezing cold football games, and eat cheese curds, she asks her husband, “Earle, have you ever noticed that I eat a lot of cheese, or is it just my imagination?”
In our gospel, Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the secrecy of the night, full of questions, obviously seeking something. Jesus tells Nicodemus that he must be born anew. Yet Nicodemus gets stuck in literalism. To him a second birth sounds like entering a mother’s womb again.
Yet Jesus is speaking of the mystery of change and transformation—at any age. The spirit is like the wind. You can’t see spirit—but you can see signs of it. Like Nicodemus, we may wonder if there is more to life than we first thought. Maybe we are not who we thought we were.
This gospel uses maternal, feminine imagery of birth to speak of spiritual things. Yet both Judaism and Christianity most often have used patriarchal, male language for God. In the past several decades, feminists and many others—including me—have struggled with a God who is a “he” in the scriptures, and often called “Father.” Yet, as we will sing shortly, recent poets and hymn writers are helping us expand our language. Even while singing of the Trinity, we can use uses images such as womb of life.
Yet, what of the name of God? For Jews, the divine name is too sacred to pronounce. Jesus called God, abba, an Aramaic term that means something like daddy or papa. Paul writes that we receive a spirit of adoption and become children of God.
Christians have a trinitarian name-formula: in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Some folks are now adding, “mother of us all,” to that line. We baptize in the name of the Trinity at the baptismal font, the womb of the church.
These days there are more and more interfaith couples. There are people with double or multiple religious belonging. Others speak of a higher power, ultimate concern, mystery, or divine source. At this church we honor diversity as a mark of the holy.
All this could cause our heads to spin as it did Alice in Wonderland. Or it could open our hearts.
The mystery we celebrate on this feast of the Holy Trinity is not about dogma or explaining God. It is about mystery and spirit and wind.
As we come to love the questions even more than the answers, we are not who we thought we were. Our identity is always in flux and how great is that! For God is always more. And God continues to birth us to become more.