Other Writings

Identify yourself!

Thomas Merton on ‘identity’


You cannot tell me who I am, and I cannot tell you who you are. If you do not know your own identity, who is going to identify you? Others can give you a name or a number, but they can never tell you who you really are. That is something you yourself can only discover from within.

— Thomas Merton, No Man Is an Island

Pulled out of context, Merton seems to be missing the mark here: how can we possibly discover our identity apart from others telling us who we are? We surely aren’t going to find it by looking within ourselves in isolation from our family, community, culture, and faith.

Merton, though, is looking at the question of finding our ‘real’ selves and the ‘real’ reality of the environment we live in:

Do we have an identity beyond what we’ve been told about?

Yes, it’s the identity God has in his mind for us; it exists and persists no matter what our environment is or becomes; it exists in spite of what others have told us.

How do we find it? By finding God.

How do we find God? We find out a lot about God through the same sources that tell us about our identity.

But how do we find God himself in such a way we can learn what he has in mind for us – for you, for me, uniquely?

We come to find that, in a mysterious way, God takes up residence within us; we find his voice whispering to us, nudging us, warning us, correcting us, teaching us; we come to know him and come to know his love for us. This is the ‘life of the spirit’ Merton is talking about: Paul calls it ‘walking in the Spirit’; Jesus calls it ‘abiding’ in him.

There is part of our identity, the most important part, we can know only by listening attentively and patiently and steadfastly to God whispering it to us.

What are we hearing God tell us? (Does Friday’s post ring true at all in our lives?)



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