The best brief reply ever given to the question “Who are you?” came from human reason illumined by faith: I am a son of God.
Know thyself, and you will arrive at the thrilling knowledge that Y-O-U spells God! That is true not only in the alphabet of the theologian, who sits enraptured as God quietly tells how He composed that lyric we men call creation, but also in the alphabet of the philosopher, whose hands must ever go groping for ultimates. Four distinct times, the fingers of the philosopher must feel their way down those far reaches that wise men have named causes as he seeks for what is formal, what is final, what is efficient, and what is material about man. Each time, those fingers will go on and on until they finally touch God!
Y-O-U must spell God in your alphabet if your days and nights are to be anything more than the passing of time. Know thyself, and you will become a gardener who every day goes forth to a fresh field for God and is found at nightfall still busy binding sheaves that will stay tight for all eternity. Know thyself, and there will be no footstep in your life that will be without specific godly meaning. Know thyself, and you will come to some knowledge of the Infinite.
All your thinkers are forced by the stern, unyielding evidence of fact to admit that you are a creature and, therefore, were created; but too often many of them stress the wrong element in creation and, hence, tell but half the truth about you. Nothing could be more dangerous, for, while all half-truths are dangerous, there is none more dangerous than the one that says, “Creation is the production of something from nothing.” That is no indication of whence you came. That is a shattered mirror that can hold only a distortion of what you are. Creation is not the production of something from nothing; it is the production of something from nothing by the almighty fiat of Him who is your eternal and ever-loving Father.
Too often and too clearly, spiritual writers tell you truths about yourself that you need never be told. You know you have been fashioned from clay. Daily experience tells you how prone you are to evil, how weak is your will, and how dark your intellect. But just as it is impossible to handle pitch and come away with clean hands, so it is impossible to ward off disgust, discouragement, and even despair if you focus forever on the fact that you are “slime of the earth.”
That is not even half the truth of your origin. Revelation tells you that God made man on the sixth day. It was not on the first day, when He shattered the impenetrable darkness with His “Let there be light”; nor on the second, when He canopied earth with the heavens; nor on the third, when He separated land from the sea; nor was it on that fourth day, when He placed the sun and the moon in His sky; nor was it yet on the fifth, when He put life into the waters of the sea and filled the air with the flashing wings and the songs of birds. Only after He had filled His world with wonders did He set about fashioning that masterpiece that was to be the crown of His visible creation.
On that sixth day, the unchangeable God changed His manner of making. He did not say, “Let man be made,” as He had said about light and the firmament and all the other creatures. He said, “Let us make man.” The difference is highly significant and tells you precisely why and how Y-O-U spells God. This text set St. John Chrysostom exclaiming, “What wonder is this? Who is he for whose production God takes counsel and Sovereign Wisdom enters into deliberation?” This same text set King David singing, “It was your hands, O God, that formed and fashioned me.” This was the text that caused St. Ambrose to remark that what was sufficient to give being to the great universe was not enough to give being to man; for while, with one of His hands, God made the heavens and rendered them incorruptible, it took two of His hands to fashion man.
The story of your beginning as told by God the Holy Spirit in the first book of the Bible is essential for any intelligent and true reply to the question “Who are you?” For, while reason might lead you on, as it led Plato, and have you calling yourself “the horizon of the universe” as this wise old pagan did, because in you the two spheres of the angelic and the animal meet, reason alone would never lead you on to the vision of the divine sculpting that took place on the sixth day. Nor would it tell you how the Sculptor Divine bent over that clay and breathed His own breath into it so that man might be.
Reason might tell you that you are from God, but revelation alone explains how Y-O-U spells God. And you must know how to spell before you can reply to “Who are you?”
Y-O-U spells God now just as it has, and will, at every moment of your existence. For you are a breath of God that He is still breathing. Your continuance in being is as dependent on God’s continual breathing as the liquid beauty in a thrush’s note is dependent on that thrush and its singing.
Y-O-U will go on spelling God so long as God is God, for “Heaven and earth shall pass away,” but His Word will never pass away— and you are a syllable in His Word!
That is the ultimate answer this book shall give to the question “Who are you?” It is a reply different from any you may obtain from men who know your body inside out and your psyche to its last and least movement. It is a reply that comes from those who are wise with the wisdom that teaches that life is not something, but Someone. It is the only reply that can be given in a book that is to be a pedestal, a stairway, and a ship.
But while it is different from the replies so many modern men will give you, there is nothing really new about this reply. It is almost as ancient as the sun. Yet, like all living truth, it is as fresh as this morning’s dawn. Like God’s own beauty, it is something “ever ancient, ever new,” for its most sublime phrasing fell from the lips Wisdom Incarnate used to articulate His message of love. It came from them just before those lips were blistered by the kiss of the traitor, broken and bloodied by the blows of the soldiers, and finally blackened by death. Thus, it is a reply that forms part of the last testament given to man by God — a final bequest, as it were, from Him who “emptied Himself” so that you might be filled. Hence, it is something transcendently sacred. It is Christ with almost His last breath saying, “You are a branch of that Vine which is I.”
Think of it: you, with all your lusts, angers, envies, jealousies, and sloth; you with all your meanness, pettiness, and towering pride; you with all your covetousness; you who can be such a glutton; you with all your secret ambitions for earthly glory, your sly schemings for passing honors, your craving for worldly wealth; you who so reek of the earthy earth — you are His member!
The answer to the question “Who are you?” should be given on your knees; for it is sacred with the very sanctity of God. You are a syllable in that Word God spoke in the unbeginning of eternity.
You are a branch in that Vine God planted in time, setting it out on a Judean hillside so that it might one day climb the trellis of the Cross.
You are a living stone in that temple whose cornerstone is the never-dying Christ.
You are a member of that Body whose Head is “God from God, true God from true God.” To know yourself intimately, learn first that you are one sent by God.
Editor’s note: This article has been excerpted from a chapter in Fr Raymond’s Spiritual Secrets of a Trappist Monk, available from Sophia Institute Press.