“The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness. I will build you up again…” – Jeremiah 31:3-4a
Philosopher Cornel West began his convocation speech at Harvard Divinity School by saying, “I am who I am because somebody loved me, somebody cared for me, and somebody attended to me. I’ll never, ever forget it.”
This simple statement names, at least, two beautiful truths.
First, we are interwoven with our past and interdependent in our present. We could not have arrived at this moment in life without the love and care of another. In everyone’s life there are moments when our life rests fully in the hands of another. It is very likely that there are more of these moments than we can recall. We may think of times when we were helpless infants. Or perhaps we think of medical procedures that put our lives in the hands of a doctor or nurse. I think of the teachers that care for my children every day. One could say that the school staff and faculty have my world in their hands. It is critical to remember that we did not emerge from nor exist in a vacuum. So much of our culture focuses on the individual that it is easy to diminish the importance of this foundational truth.
The second truth that speaks from West’s quote refers to our identity. I imagine that within the history of Cornel West’s life there are bullies, antagonists, tragedies, and sorrows. I do not know how he processes these, although I am sure his faith plays a part. What I know is that he has restated the quote above from his convocation speech in several other contexts. He continues to reaffirm his identity as one that is rooted in love. He does not say, “I am who I am because of the hate I have endured,” or “I am who I am because of the losses I have suffered.” While I am sure experiences of grief and persecution have shaped him on some level, what I hear from him is a refusal to let those experiences define him. “I am who I am because somebody loved me.” My friend, you have been and are loved. Let this truth rest upon you.
The scriptures affirm in story and statement that “God is love.” This love holds us together even when we do not perceive it, or understand it, and even when we are actively resisting it. The scripture says the Holy Spirit intercedes for us even when we do not have the words to say (Romans 8:26). Our faith proclaims that God weaves together all things for good (Romans 8:28). This hope encourages us to give thanks for all of life because love is at work (1 Thessalonians 5:18). Our finite lives exist on the infinite timeline of love. May that love divine define you today.