Oren Lyons was the first Onondagan to enter college. When he returned to his reservation for his first vacation, his uncle proposed a fishing trip on a lake. Once he had his nephew in the middle of the lake where he wanted him, he began to interrogate him. “Well Oren,” he said, “you’ve been to college; you must be pretty smart now from all they’ve been teaching you. Let me ask you a question. Who are you?” Taken aback by the question, Oren fumbled for an answer. “What do you mean, who am I? Why I’m your nephew, of course.” His uncle rejected his answer and repeated his question. Successively the nephew ventured that he was Oren Lyons, an Onondagan, a human being, a man, a young man, all to no avail. When his uncle had reduced him to silence and he asked to be informed as to who he was, his uncle said, “Do you see that bluff over there? Oren you are that bluff. And that giant pine on the other shore? Oren, you are that pine. And this water that supports our boat? You are this water.”
-Anecdote taken from the Onondaga tribe (upstate New York) from The World’s Religions by Huston Smith
Who are you?
Woman. Man. Black. Asian. Hindu. Muslim. Canadian. American. Mother. Sister. Uncle. Grandfather. Educator. Gay. Heterosexual. Artist. Educator. Nurse . . .
Us human beings, we are social animals and much of our conscious identity lies in who we are in relation to other human beings. Most of these are constructed identities and are based off of social agreements that are limited by place and time. These social identities can help us situate ourselves within communities, families, and places. They can give us a role. Sometimes these identities are limiting and other times they are liberating. Sometimes they represent who we are and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes we claim these identities for ourselves and other times people project these identities onto us. Either way, these identities are who we are socially, but who else are we?
We have an ancient identity that we often overlook, our identity as creatures of the Earth. We are related and connected to all of Creation. What a wonderful thing to realize that we are not only part of a human family, but we are part of an Earth family and an Earth story? We are connected to a process that started 4.5 billion years ago. We are part of a living and breathing organism, created and wonderfully made. There is a life force in Creation that is powerful, resilient, and steadfast.
So the next time you need strength…
the next time you feel like you aren’t enough . . .
the next time you feel like you don’t know who you are or where you are going…
tap into the life force of Creation that is running through you and that IS you every moment you take a breath.