What the hell is authenticity anyway?

One of the buzzwords that comes up over and over again in this thing I am doing is “authenticity.” I am struggling with it. I don’t know what it means – sure, okay, dictionary definition, fine. But that is not helping me figure out what it means to “live authentically” or be my “authentic self.” It’s one of those words that if you say it over and over again it ceases to mean anything, becoming just a string of sounds.

It’s like the old exhortation to “Just be yourself!” when I don’t know who that is.

There are days when I have no idea who I really am, stripped bare of all the layers of appearance and all the roles that I’ve taken on. Nearly forty years of living and I’ve still not figured that out; sometimes it seems that every time I’ve tried to stretch my wings I’ve hit an electric fence with them. Is it any wonder that I’m anxiously waiting to be contained this time? Stretching cautiously, one eye over my shoulder, wondering when I’m going to run into the invisible boundary of “Do what you want – just not that. Stop being that way. You know what I mean.”

I see myself in my cat – not the sassy one who divorced Spouse and adopted me, but the spooky Doofus Cat with big golden eyes who can go from Oh-yeah-oh-yeah rolling off the sofa kitty bliss to wide-eyed OH SHIT EVERYBODY PANIC in milliseconds. Sometimes I wish that cat would just relax.

Sometimes I wish I could just relax.

It comes down to a life of not ever having been quite one thing or the other; I have always been “from away” and I am well adapted to being in places where I do not quite fit. But something in my soul aches for that fitting, for the comfort of being able to unfold completely and discover what it is I look like, whole and complete, imperfections and quirks and all. I have struggled for a long time with perfectionism and the urge to hide anything of myself that did not measure up to expectations – mine or those I attributed to the people around me.

I think I need to learn how to not do that.

I read somewhere recently, and can’t find where to attribute it, a reminder to us seminarian types that we are not preparing to be a generic minister to everybody everywhere, but rather to be the minister we are each called to be and to serve as we are each individually called to serve. I have been tumbling this around in my head trying to figure out how it applies. Not that I am anywhere near needing to know the ultimate answer (as if there was a single one – I am starting to suspect it is just knowing which “thataway” to set course for in any given moment.) But it would be comforting to be able to articulate this direction more clearly. It would also be comfortable to have clearer direction in the first place – right now I am in one-step-in-front-of-another mode, feeling my way through the fog (which is better than the emotional and spiritual freefall part) but where I am going? I would love to be able to tell you, friend, but I am not sure myself.

I will go where I need to go and do what needs to be done when I get there. That is what I do.

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