Afraid that our inner light will be extinguished or our inner darkness exposed, we hide our true identities from each other. In the process, we become separated from our own souls. We end up living divided lives, so far removed from the truth we hold within that we cannot know the integrity that comes from being what you are.” ~Parker Palmer
Parker Palmer is one of my favorite authors. About twelve years ago, when I was experiencing a bit of an identity crisis, I read and re-read his book Let Your Life Speak. Later, I read Hidden Wholeness. In both, he invites us to listen to our inner teacher (which he also calls the soul) and follow its leadings toward a sense of meaning and purpose. He says that identity does not depend on the roles we play. It depends only the realization that we are inherently worthy and sacred, valued in and for ourselves. That is the core of our Unitarian Universalist First Principle, but how do we know, name and claim that sacredness in ourselves? How do we keep from hiding our true identities from ourselves and others?
My first ministry out of seminary was serving at First Universalist Church of Denver leading a project called Create Meaning. We offered workshops and meditation groups to Unitarian Universalists and the wider community focused on helping people discover their true identities, claim their sacredness, and create meaning and purpose in their lives. This month at UU Church of Boulder, our theme is identity, and we will explore some of those concepts and exercises offered by Create Meaning. The first one is an exercise called Where I am From in which you write a poem about yourself using the following format:
Draw four vertical lines on a sheet of paper.
Use the following headings to make lists of words or phrases that come to you.
- Things found around your childhood home, yard or neighborhood
- Names of relatives that link you to your past
- Sayings you heard growing up
- Names of places you keep or kept childhood memories
Then write a poem where each line starts with “I am from,” followed by one of the items on your lists.
Here is mine:
I am from sayings like “no rough housing in the house” and “don’t come to me unless there is blood”.
I’m from “play with the little hurts”.
From three brothers who rough housed anyway and drew blood often.
I’m from laughter and joking and sometimes ridicule. A long line of Irish tough.
I am from Mae Kelly the matriarch in the legend – a thick shell who put up with gambling and drinking. Her stern portrait in the hallway I walked to tell my parents I was home.
I am from a church that loved me and watched me grow up but who said I must believe in a savior. From teachers who told me to be a lawyer and a TV news anchor. From parents who said I must have kids and not work outside the home.
I’m from the incinerator in the backyard where trash disappeared into billows of smoke.
A tall maple tree, picnics under it, peanut butter and bananas.
I’m from the small white square suitcase that I used to “spend” with my Ninie and Bacchi. The one where my Girl Scout sash and favorite doll still live.
I am from friends who love my smile and think I’m funny; others who hope I will listen to all their problems all the time.
I’m from Groves and Richardson. Scrappy and Classy.
I hope you have fun with this exercise and that you share it with folks you know or in your small groups at church. The process of understanding and claiming our sacredness, our identity, our true selves is hard work. And it’s much easier done with others in community.