The readings for today are wonderful but I'm not going to reflect on them directly but rather on the theme of names and the process of naming. I read recently that the most popular name in Ontario this pas year was "Olivia" for girls and "Liam" for boys. In the Church calendar we call today the "Naming of Jesus".
The name, Jesus or Jeshua, was a very common Jewish name at the time of Jesus' birth. It meant "he saves" or "will save" and thus is a very appropriate name for Jesus.
In the scriptures Jesus has been called by many names. Acc. to
Luke, Gabriel tells Mary that her son will be called "the Son of God". Other names include Emmanuel or "God with us", Saviour, Messiah, the Christ, rabbi. In the Gospel of John there are the many "I am" phrases, phrases which Jesus uses to describe himself: "the bread of life" or "the living bread", "the light of the world", "the gate for the sheep", "the Good Shepherd", "the resurrection and the Life", "the way, the truth & the life" and then there are all the names used in the O antiphons such as: Wisdom, Lord, Root of Jesse, Key of David, Dayspring, etc.. But Jesus was also called blasphemer, a glutton & a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors
& sinners. I suspect that each one of us has also had many names. My parents gave me the name Elizabeth and my mother firmly believed in not shortening names. But at school some of my classmates would call me Liz or Lizzie or worst of all Lizard. Usually I simply would not answer to those names. Some would respect my preferred name and others wouldn't. During university days, I had a boyfriend who called me "Beth". There was nothing wrong with that name but it wasn't me. I could never get used to it. When I worked in a travel agency, my name was changed to Betty without even asking me if that was O.K. I discovered the
change of name when someone called me, "Betty". I looked around to see who it could be. After the third time (like Samuel hearing the voice of God), someone said "Look up". The person calling me was in a loft above the offices so I went upstairs and explained that my name wasn't Betty and that was why I hadn't answered. She responded that the manager's wife's name was Elizabeth and it would be confusing to call me Elizabeth as well but the manager's wife didn't even work in the office. Over the next 18 months I got used to the name "Betty" and quite liked it. My nieces and nephew still call me Auntie Betty because it was easier for them to say Betty than to say Elizabeth when they were small. So when I went
to work in Japan and was asked if I had another name besides Elizabeth (another CMS missionary was called Elizabeth), I said Betty. So for two years I was called Betty by all English speaking people and "Rolfe Sensei" by all Japanese speaking people.
This was fine; I became accustomed to being Betty. What was interesting was what happened when I came home and started teaching in the school from which I'd graduated 11 years earlier. There were still teachers who knew me as Elizabeth, yet I'd become so accustomed to the name "Betty" that that was how I introduced myself to everyone else. It was almost like having a split personality. After a couple of years I realized I was "Elizabeth" not "Betty". Why? I don't know. It just felt right. It was who I was. So I
asked people to call me Elizabeth and most did and do. I still get caught at Christmas sometimes and forget to sign myself as Betty or Auntie Betty to those who knew me that way. And those aren't the only names I've had. Anyone in the Guiding world called me "Ste" (which was Lord Baden-Powell's nickname); it was the name given me by the members of the first guide company I led in the 1960's. And at least one person knows me as ERT which are my initials (Emergency Response Team). I've also been called a heretic. I could go on. What do names mean? What does your name mean to you? Have you ever had more than one name? If
you had the opportunity to choose a new name, what name would you choose and why? If you have or have had several different names, what does each of them say about you as a person? Who is the authentic "you" behind all of those names — the person you were created to be. When Samantha Caravan was here recently, she quoted a poem by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which he had
obviously written while in prison and it really spoke to me:
I stepped from my cell's confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a squire from his country-house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As though it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
equably, smilingly, proudly,
Like one accustomed to win.
Am I really all that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were
compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for the words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectation of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all?
Who am I? This or the other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptibly woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army,
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am Thine.
When Br. Jude was with us in 2012 to lead our Long Retreat, he kept asking the questions:
Who Am I and who are you, God?
These are very good questions to ask at the beginning of a New Year?
A variation of the question might be:
Who am I now and who do I want to be in the coming year?
What is my name?
I couldn't resist ending with T. S. Eliot, "The Naming of Cats" although I'm sure many of you have heard it several times.
The Naming of Cats is a difficult matter,
It isn't just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have Three Different Names.
First of all, there's the name that the family use daily,
Such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James,
Such as Victor or Jonathan, George or Bill Bailey –
All of them sensible everyday names.
There are fancier names if you think they sound sweeter,
Some for the gentlemen, some for the dames:
Such as Plato, Admetus, Electra, Demeter –
But all of them sensible everyday names.
But I tell you, a cat needs a name that's particular,
A name that's peculiar, and more dignified,
Else how can he keep up his tail perpendicular,
Or spread out his whiskers, or cherish his pride?
Of names of this kind, I can give you a quorum,
Such as Munkustrap, Quaxo or Coricopat,
Such as Bombalurina or else Jellylorum –
Names that never belong to more than one cat.
But above and beyond there's still one name left over,
And that is the name you never will guess;
The name that no human research can discover –
But The Cat Himself Knows, and will never confess.
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable, effable,
Deep and inscrutable singular Name.
SO. . . . Who are you at the very centre of your being?
Who are you when you are being most authentically yourself?
What is God's name for you?
Who is Jesus for you? Which of Jesus' many names or descriptors is most helpful for you?