I was going to write another one of those sermon thingies for which I'm absolutely not qualified, but I don't wanna. So here instead is a brief riff on names and naming.
Today was "Naming Sunday" at St. Michael's. No, I've never heard of it, either, and neither has Google. But most of us put on name tag stickers anyway. The church bulletin even had the Cheers theme lyrics reprinted in it. Uh, no. That part was not the best idea ever.
In his sermon, Father Douglas talked about names having power, and how he'd made a difference in some kid's life just by learning his name. He even talked about Merry and Pippin's introduction to Treebeard, and the discussion they had with the Ent about their respective names. And of course, the really important name in the sermon was the one that starts with a J and ends with an s, in whose name prayers are answered.
As for me, though, my mind was off on a slightly different track for Naming Sunday. That "names have power" stuff reminded me of Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea, where a mage's "true name" is a deep secret, lest another wizard gain power over him. That's the basis of Christopher Stein calling himself Joshua Wander in my stories. And in my Mâvarin books, newly-promoted mage adepts add a syllable of a sponsor's name to their own names, and in so doing, incorporate a small part of the sponsor himself (or herself) into their own personalities. At Darma's Renaming to Darsuma, she takes on a lot more than that, setting in motion the events of Mages of Mâvarin.
But the magical links between magicians and their names are not the only fictional treatment of the power of names. In Madeleine L'Engle's A Wind in the Door (the first sequel to A Wrinkle in Time), to be Named is an act of love. In the book, you have to know someone to Name him or her, enough to recognize and appreciate the person's unique qualities. Even awful Mr. Jenkins becomes lovable when Meg finally understands him well enough to Name him, distinguishing him from his evil doppelgangers. Arrayed against the power of Naming is the power of Unnaming. The Ecthroi, the Un-Namers, try to destroy by turning someone into no one, something into nothing. But if you're Named, even if you're destroyed, you're not completely gone, because you're known, and loved. You're Named.
And back at St. Michael's, Father Smith calls parishioners by name while handing out the Eucharist, or greeting people at the church door. Nor is he the only one who does this. It makes a difference. We're Named, and it means that someone cares.
“He counts the multitude of the stars, and calls them all by name.” - Psalm 147
"The true shepherd calls his own sheep by name..." John 10
"I Name you Echthroi. I Name you Meg.
I Name you Calvin.
I Name you Mr. Jenkins.
I Name you Proginoskes.
I fill you with Naming.
Be, butterfly and behemoth,
be galaxy and grasshopper,
star and sparrow,
Be caterpillar and comet,
Be porcupine and planet,
sea sand and solar system,
sing with us,
dance with us,
rejoice with us,
for the glory of creation,
seagulls and seraphim
angle worms and angel host,
chrysanthemum and cherubim.
Sing for the glory
of the living and the loving
the flaming of creation
sing with us
dance with us
be with us.
--Madeleine L'Engle, A Wind in the Door
Don't mind me. I'm very tired, and this entry probably doesn't make a whole lot of sense. See you tomorrow.
P.S. Thanks, Becky, for the proofread! I'm still very tired....