Sunday, July 08, 2007

The holy Name

Within the past month I've started a new gig that may go until the end of the year: interim minister for pastoral care at a lower Fairfield County UCC church. It's part-time, which is all I can do since I'm still the stay-home mom, hence RevMom. Gives me an opportunity to keep my hand in (can I say that as a clergyperson?) while still having some summer days to spend with my daughters; then come the fall, work while they're in school.

The commute is not bad: 45 minutes shared by backroads and the parkway. And the drive alone gives me time to think, reflect, sing loudly with my CDs, or listen to NPR sans interruption or complaint. This morning, as I headed to church, I saw a doe while paused at a stop sign. My hybrid's engine shut off, leaving me to enjoy the moment in total silence. When she walked toward the woods and into the dense growth, I said "thank you" to God for a gift unbidden.

But then I thought, how dare I connect something so personal, dare to call the One who created the cosmos, something so personal as "God". To me, it seems more appropriate (and more bold) to think that the One who created the cosmos can be so intimate with the creation; not by gifting us mere mortals with "Taster's Choice" moments with animals, but by simply inviting us into a relationship. But for me, naming this reality as "God" carries with it the baggage of theism, of a God intimately involved in personal lives who is removed from the natural order of things. When praying with children I will use the words "Dear God" but in moments for which words of gratitude seem necessary, "God" seems to trivialize the gift and the giver.

I have read of an Aboriginal tribe's use of the words "Divine Oneness", which to me implies an intimacy yet also an appropriate respect for the One whom we are addressing. This is not a great uncle or aunt who sends the best birthday and Christmas presents every year, or the dear friend who calls just when we need them the most, or the Great Genie of Parking Spaces & Wish Fulfillment. This is the "Eternal Spirit, God of our savior Jesus Christ and our God... [who calls] the worlds into being, creates persons in [the Image] and [sets] before each one the ways of life and death".

The divine Presence (Barbara Brown Taylor has a fondness for this one) makes itself known in a myriad number of ways but never reveals a name. The closest we get is "I Am Who I Am" or "I Will Be What I Will Be". From that we derived YHWH--Yahweh, then Jehovah. Then Jesus gave his disciples the invitation to call this god "Father": Abba or our English equivalent of "Daddy", which implies relationship, conversation, compassion, care, instruction, admonishment, and most of all, love. But we have abused this intimacy into a reversal, thinking we can understand the mind of the One who created all that we observe. We think if we can know the cosmos, discover its secrets, we can know this God, this poetry of our souls and of the universe. Ha!

A name is intensely personal to one's identity, yet being named, being called by one's name does not imply that one is truly known. It takes a lifetime, perhaps even more, to truly know someone, to know the person behind the name. What makes us think that by addressing the holy as "God" that we know anything about this ineffable Presence that instills both wonder and confusion in the hearts of humankind?

So here is an incomplete list of my favorite images/names for the Holy One in our midst:

Womb of Compassion
Divine Oneness
Breath of Fire
Persistent Friend, Insistent Enemy (Ted Loder)
Life for Others (in reference to Christ)
Way of Anguish
Word Made Flesh
Great Spirit
Ground of All Being (Paul Tillich)

I'm always hungry for fresh images to spark inspiration and creativity. Give me some of your most daring or cherished classical images of the divine.


Mystical Seeker said...

By the way, congratulations on the new job. :)

Mystical Seeker said...

(Wow, I wrote a long response, three or four paragraphs long, and somehow I lost it all. So this is a rewrite.)

I am reminded of the way Judaism has often respected the inability to capture God's essence via a name, even considering an attempt to do so a form of idolatry, so that we are left with YHWH or G_d. Islam goes in the opposite direction, giving us 99 names for God. But either 0 names for God or 99 are really just two ways of saying the same thing--that we can't really capture God's essence through our attempt at naming him/her.

I don't really have a daring image of the Divine. I don't address the Divine with any name at all in personal, private meditations--I know who I am talking to and so does God.

In public prayers, though, people typically begin with an opening address, as if we were composing a letter to Santa. I've sometimes heard terms like "Holy One" at the beginning of a public prayer. The New Zealand Book of Common Prayer begins its version of the Lord's Prayer with "Eternal Spirit, Earth Maker, Pain Bearer, Life-giver, Source of all that is and that shall be, Father and Mother of us all". Not a very short way to start a prayer, but I like the sentiment.

I am pretty overwhelmed by the Divine. I don't know how to capture its essence, and don't think it is possible to do so. I like Glynn Cardy's idea that God is like the wind--we don't see it, but we feel its effects. Naming God is a way of limiting God in some way, but we are humans and we seem to have a need to name things.

Cynthia said...

I like the hymn you quote in your latest blog entry; it was an unfamiliar one. I knew this one would spark a response from you. :)

For me, the different images open my imagination. I know I can never come to the end of them, but as an artist/poet I enjoy the imagery.

The images in the New Zealand Book of Common Prayer are wonderful! I may have to get me a copy.

pj said...

Cynthia, I didn't realize we're practically neighbors! So, greetings from beautiful White Plains, New York! And congratulations on your new gig. I hope it's everything you desire.

I like "persistent friend," very much, without the other part. It took me a long time to get past the old guy with the beard in my Jewish children's Bible. My god-image now is changeable, but I still tend to use the word "God." It's concise, you know?

Cynthia said...

PJ, howdy neighbor!

The way I interpret Loder's "insistent enemy" is that this divine Presence is the enemy, the foe of everything that would get in the way of relationship, including my own selfish wants and desires, my sins, my ego.

Thanks for reading and reflecting.

sharecropper said...

Well, I guess my favorite name is even more persoanlized - I often call the Divine - Goddess Chickie - the incarnational and the unknowable.

Cynthia said...

I LOVE it!

Maybe I'll try that one for the pastoral prayer sometime. :)

Eileen said...

Mystical - Love all those thoughts, and agree wholeheartedly.

I call God "God" when I pray (because that's how I think of God - man/woman/more/less)and I go into it knowing that I don't know jack shit about what God really is - only that I feel whatever God "is" out there.

I get the feeling God is cool with this...OCIBW.

Grandmère Mimi said...

I like several of your favorites, Cynthia.

Divine Oneness
Breath of Fire
Word Made Flesh
Ground of All Being

I like the names from Isaiah also:

Wonderful Counsellor
Prince of Peace
Mighty God
Everlasting Father

Some others:
Light of the World
True Vine
Good Shepherd

My very favorite of all: the Alpha and the Omega

Cynthia, congratulations on your new job.

Cynthia said...

Thank you all for your responses, images, reflections, and for your good wishes.