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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

The Gold Beneath | August 20, 2023 Rev. Dr. Dorsey Blake



Not long ago, I shared a message from Eileen W. Lindner from her son who volunteers as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT). Admittedly, the insight came from the context of a person having experienced head trauma.


One of the things EMTs learn is how to assess head trauma. With the proper assessment, when someone has been injured the extent of their injury and their symptoms can be quickly summarized. The EMT can then report to the doctor or nurse at the emergency room door that the patient is, for example, “alert and conscious, times four.” What it means to any medical person is that the patient is alert--that is awake and conscious. “Times four” means, in this order, that the person knows who they are, where they are, what time it is, and what just happened.


I stated in that message that I felt the insight could apply to each of us because we have experienced trauma. We have been injured by national rhetoric and actions and perhaps by local failures. Regardless of our station in life, we know that we have been injured by contradictions to what residents of the nation have been promised, especially in terms of political, societal, and personal relationships with each other.


The question of who we are is fundamental to our sense of identity, our place in the universe and community, our connections, values, destinations, and horizons.


For many children, the answer is comprised of the child’s name, age, who the parents are and what the child likes to do. In high school, one adds the name of the school being attended, “I go to Lincoln High.” It reaches the level of identifying so emotionally with the high school, college, or sports team that when defeated by another school or sports team, it’s as if one has been personally assaulted.


The spiritual person whose life is bound to a calling looks farther down the road, above or below these understandings of self. For the truly spiritual person, the question of who I am cannot be divorced from the question of whose I am. Religion is the binding of the self to the larger self. Howard Thurman and Dietrich Bonhoeffer powerfully explore this mutuality. We’ll return to them a bit later. It is a question that resists final definitions because we are not final but still in the process of living. Our definition contains all that we are, including our experiences. And we continue to experience. It includes all our memories, and each day adds memories. Who we are is never finished.


One of Fr. Richar Rohr’s daily meditations illumined the question. Featuring author and Buddhist scholar, Tara Brach, Rohr placed before me Brach’s understanding that our true nature is “loving awareness.”


Brach says:

Increasingly over the years, my trust in this loving awareness as the essence of who we all are has become a guiding light. No matter how wrong or lacking we may feel, how caught in separation, or how trapped by the messages, violations, and inequities of the society we live in, this basic goodness remains the essence of our Being.


There is a way out when inundated with messages that confuse and belittle our existence. This message does not gloss over our predicament, the wrongs, the separation, the violations, and inequities, but they do not destroy this essence that is like our DNA. It is the essence of our being. It is there when all else fades.


A beautiful story holds within it this truth. During the mid-1950s in Bangkok, Thailand, a huge clay statue of the Buddha began to crack due to heat and drought. When some monks arrived to investigate, they shined a flashlight into the largest of the cracks. What they saw surprised everyone. Deep under the gray clay was the gleam of gold.


No one had known that inside this popular but ordinary-looking statue was a solid-gold Buddha. As it turns out, the statue had been covered with plaster and clay six hundred years earlier to protect it from invading armies. Although all the monks who lived in the monastery at that time had been killed in the attack, the golden Buddha, its beauty, and value covered over, had survived untouched.


While a touching story with a great stratagem for deceiving the enemy and preserving the golden Buddha, there is a difference when deception covers our real self, the true identity, and the authentic self. The danger of deceiving is to become a deception. Deception tends not to be stationary but moves stealthily to the core of the self, to its altar, a detour on the road to authenticity.


Just as the monks disguised the beauty of the golden Buddha in order to protect it during dangerous times, we cover our own innate purity and goodness as we encounter a challenging world. As children many of us were criticized, ignored, misunderstood, or abused, leading us to doubt that gold within us. As we grow up, we increasingly internalize the judgments and values of our society, further losing touch with our innocence, our creativity, and our tender hearts. We cover over the gold as we seek the approval of others, looking to them to measure our worth—to determine whether we are good enough, smart enough, successful enough.


Brach is aware of the treachery of cover-up. Believing as Thurman does that the contradictions of life are neither final nor ultimate, Brach affirms the loving presence of the holy as indestructible. Even though the light may be hidden, it is still there. Underneath our lives with all their difficulties, provocations, and threats, indestructible gold keeps watch.


Adding layer after layer to protect ourselves, we become identified with our coverings, believing ourselves to be separate, threatened, and deficient. Yet even when we cannot see the gold, the light and love of our true nature cannot be dimmed, tarnished, or erased. It calls to us daily through our longing for connection, our urge to understand reality, our delight in beauty, our natural desire to help others. Our deepest intuition is that there is something beyond our habitual story of a separate and isolated self: something vast, mysterious, and sacred….


Our constant struggles to make sense of the garbage of life often deprive us of the composted resurrection into new life and usefulness.


Even though the gold of your true nature can get buried beneath fear, uncertainty, and confusion, the more you trust this loving presence as the truth of who you are, the more fully you will call it forth in yourself and in all those you touch. And in our communities, as we humans increasingly remember that gold, we’ll treat each other and all beings with a growing reverence and love.


In Disciplines of the Spirit, Howard Thurman considers the question Who Am I as the first question one must ask in seeking to unfold ultimate commitment to the demands and needs of the Universe. How do we synthesize our disparate selves into a life capable of yielding itself to the All Self? Whose Am I?” How do we find a center from which to operate? We only become human in human situations. We are community beings, striving to become communal beings connected to the infinite web of life. We need the company of others to fully answer the question of who we are.


Thurman with great insights unfolds the Biblical story of the madman who lived among the tombs rather than in the town or city among the people. His community considered him insane and extremely dangerous. Rather than having him run amok in the township, the townsfolk had bound him in chains, and cut him off from any meaningful contact with them, including his homies. Security lay in chaining him to rocks. With the strength of outrage in his body politic, he would often break the chains. Living in the tombs was the abode suited for him, not with alive people in his community. Not in my neighborhood, they declared. Certainly, they had to protect the women and children.


When Jesus arrived and approached him, he cried out to Jesus not to torture him as others had, just to leave him alone. Jesus then asked him the question that we are asking ourselves today, “What is your name.?” “Who are you?” And, he answered with an agonizing cry, “my name is Legion.” I don’t know who I am. There are so many selves warring within I cannot figure out my true self.


Could this confusion have come from the Roman Legion’s enforced occupation of him and his community? Was he trying to deal with internalized oppression, oppression to which his community had accommodated itself? Yet deep down within he could not accept. Does he become a revolutionary? Does he want to withdraw totally, to ritualize his exclusion? The Roman Legion enforced the policies of Roman and Roman Imperialism on Jews, necessarily causing anxiety and fear by demanding loyalty to Rome. How does he become whole, healed when demands from the oppressive state mingle with an accommodationist community while trying to hold on to identity and personality that transcend them? Rome and Legion’s alienated community interrogate him. The question “What is your name? Who are you? was liberating. Jesus glimpses the hidden gold within scattering the debris so that it gleams again.


Imprisoned because of his committed opposition to Hitler and Nazism, Reverend Dietrich raised the same question we are undertaking today. “Who Am I?” Facing death and fully committed to seeing what the end would be, Bonhoeffer authored the poem below.


WER BIN ICH? – WHO AM I?

Who am I? They often tell me,

I step our from my cell,

Composed, contented and sure,

Like a lord from his manor.


Who am I? They often tell me,

I speak with my jailers,

Frankly, familiar and firm,

As though I was in command.


Who am I They also tell me,

I bear the days of hardship,

Unconcerned, amused, and proud,

like one who usually wins.

Am I really what others tell me?

Or am I only what I myself know of me?

Troubled, homesick, ill, like a bird in a cage,

Gasping for breath, as though one strangled me,

hungering for colors, for flowers, for songs of birds,

thirsting for kind words, for human company,

quivering with anger at despotism and petty insults,

anxiously waiting for great events,

helplessly worrying about friends far away,

empty and tired of praying, of thinking, of working,

exhausted and ready to bid farewell to it all.


Who am I? This or the other?

Am I then, this today and the other tomorrow?

Am I both at the same time? In public, a hypocrite

And by myself, a contemptible whining weakling?

Or am I to myself, like a beaten army,

Flying in disorder from a victory already won?


Who am I? Lonely questions mock me.

Who I really am, you know me, I am thine, O God!


. . .



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