In Chapter 4 of Death on a Friday Afternoon, Neuhaus explores the Lord’s words “Why hast thou forsaken me?” There’s much here; I keep re-reading it. One of the truths he emphasizes is our identity, who we are. I am not a person in my own right; I have been bought with a price. And that doesn’t mean that I am merely under obligation to the One who bought me; it means that I am in Him, that my life is not mine, but His in me.
Neuhaus explains that the essence – he calls it telos, and I think it is what Hopkins calls inscape – of our being is not something that we choose for ourselves, but something already existent that we discover. In Christ, we already are what we are meant, created, to be. This essence is not “determined by what [we] want to do” but given to us by our identity in Christ. Of course, because we have not yet been perfected, because we live still in a fallen world and in fleshly bodies, “[w]hat [we] want and what [we] choose,” he says, “may be in conflict with who [we are], who [we] really [are].” But if we have been baptized with Christ into His death, then the objective self to be discovered is the self who is in Christ, who is Christ: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me,” Paul reminds us.
This is the one truth I would pray to remember at all times. My life is not mine to choose; I was bought with a price and I am in Him; He is my identity. This doesn’t mean I am not a unique individual; He has created only unique individuals. But it is only when I discover my identity in His that He can give me the unique self He intended me to be. All the rest is a striving for the spurious right to name, to create, my self – and thus fall farther and farther away from His glorious desire for me.
Polycarp, in his extreme old age, was told to deny Christ or die. He said that it was not possible to deny the One whom he had served for 80-some years. He would no longer be Polycarp if he were to deny Christ: because he is in Christ, because his identity is Christ’s identity, for Polycarp to deny Christ would be for Christ to deny Christ, an impossibility. “Here I stand, I can do no other.”
I will not likely be asked to deny Christ or die anytime soon. But there are so many little opportunities every day to deny Him: to be irritable or angry; to snip at (or about) people who annoy me; to watch a show or a movie I know is not healthy for me; to put off work I’ve promised to do . . . . Who will I be each day? The woman God created me to be, that woman who is in Christ, or a false woman I name and create for myself in opposition to Him?
I pray that I might learn to make every choice freely bathed in humility and gratefulness before the One who bought me with a price and placed me in Himself, to be the woman He created me to be.