By Sister Luz Eugenia Alvarez
The beginning of a new year usually is a time when we make New Year’s resolutions, trying to be better people. We could find ourselves in new situations, ministries or cities, which motivates us to question how we want to be in the coming year. What would it be like if we asked ourselves “Who am I”?
After I left the Mercy Community some years ago, I asked myself “Who am I now?” The first answer was, I am not a religious woman. I am no longer a member of a religious community with an identity based in a particular charism. For more than 20 years, I identified myself as a religious sister. Now, my social status was as a lay woman. However, the question stayed in my heart. No matter how clear the awareness of my new reality, I continued to question “Who am I?” “I am a beloved daughter of God.”
Even though I believe I am a beloved daughter of God, the question of “Who am I?” remained in my heart. I went to a cabin in the North Wisconsin Woods to have an extended time of prayer and reflection. My companions were my old Bible, a friend and a dog. On this retreat, I prayed that God would provide an answer to the quest for my identity.
During the retreat new, life came to light in me: If God is the “I AM” (Ex 3:16) and I am made in God’s image and likeness (Gn 1:27), then “I am” in the “I AM” of God. Whatever God is, I am too. I have the potentiality and call to be everything God is—within our human limitations, of course. A deep peace and joy filled me. God is love, light, truth, life, power, simplicity, strength, peace, unity, direction, compassion and mercy, and I am called to live these virtues as well. I had the experience that I am not valued by what I do, by the things I possess, social status, cultural roots, traditions or how people see me. This new identity awareness became my center, which integrates my life in God. I found my true self in God. With this new consciousness,
I felt like Mary, proclaiming the greatness of God because God has done great things for me. This peace and inner freedom helped me to return to the Sisters of Mercy.
Mary knew what it was like to begin again, and again, and again. After being just a woman from Nazareth, she became the Kecharitomene, (full of grace), being pregnant in the most unusual circumstances that put her life in risk. Later, by giving birth to her son, she began a new reality, not as a mother of just one more child, but as the Mother of the Son of God. Simple identity? The Gospel of Luke tells us after the visit of the shepherds—despised ones in that society—“She kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Lk 2:19). She had to figure out over time what it means to be Mother of the immanent and transcendental One, the most fragile human being and all-powerful God. She had a new identity and new way of being in the world: to be in God as disciple, and God in her as the Theotokos, (God bearer), Mother of God.
May Mary, the Mother of God, intercede for us, so that we may ponder our experiences of God and give birth to Jesus through our true identity.