You saw to my center,
Past every imposter,
And you whispered my True Name.
– “My True Name” by Carrie Newcomer
My name is ‘Derek’. It’s possible that this is a bit of a revelation for some readers – I’ve been a bit cautious with personal information on this blog. Likewise, I really hadn’t alluded to this blog from within my Facebook account. But I decided a few weeks ago to begin doing away with my split personality. One of my friends even wished me a “Happy Internet Persona Integration Day!”
Nevertheless, I’m going to leave it at that for now – just ‘Derek’. I suppose, however, that some of my other “names” are over on the right sidebar. Husband. Dad. Et cetera, et cetera. And this brings us to the inspiration for this particular blog: a song by Carrie Newcomer entitled “My True Name” (from the album of the same title). In her song, Carrie equates someone’s name with the deepest truth about who that person is. Each of us – to varying degrees – has a variety of names attached to us. You might say that we wear them as a type of clothing. Some of these names we choose for ourselves. Some of them are placed on us by others. Maybe the clothing fits. Or maybe we’re really trying to squeeze into someone else’s clothing. But, says Carrie, “there is a name that is the essence and combination of all I am. Whenever that name is known or spoken, it is the finest of gifts.”
Carrie ends her song with these lines…
And if you see me standing on the banks of Lake Griffy
Throwing white bits of paper to the wind
I’m just throwing the shards of all my calling cards,
And I’m speaking My True Name
I think that’s lovely, partly because I recognize part of my “true name” in those lines. I’d begin to re-write it like this: “If you see me sittin’ quiet beside some Jacob’s Creek tributary / throwing rocks into the stream…” My favorite places are part of my true name. Other parts of it include the color blue, tapioca pudding, my family and community, my moods, love, compassion, anger, humility, pride, and impatience. Some parts of my name I don’t speak to you. Some parts, I don’t speak to myself. Ultimately, as Richard Rohr indicates in The Naked Now, there is only One who truly knows my name. My name is “God’s image of [me], which includes and loves both the good and the bad”. I must learn to listen for my name.
It turns out that Carrie talks about names on her most recent album, as well. But this time around, she’s talking about the name of God…
I do not know its name though it’s ever entwining, but I believe it must look like an old man shining…
I do not know its name no matter how I try, but I think it must taste like peaches eaten by the roadside…
I do not know its name, elusive and subtle, but I believe it must sound like that man singing in the shuttle…
I do not know its name, swimmer or watcher, but I believe that there is always something moving beneath the water…
“I Do Not Know Its Name” by Carrie Newcomer
If these lyrics aren’t quite clear, consider these lines that she offers from the opening of the Tao Te Ching (translated): “The Tao that can be expressed is not the Everlasting Tao… The Name that can be named is not the Everlasting Name.” In other words, the god that you are able to describe is not the true God.
During Advent this year, I’ve had some related thoughts. Some of our names for God likely include Omnipotent or Omniscient or Omnipresent. But if I confess that my best understanding of God comes from observing the life of Jesus, then I may need to rethink how I understand those names. After all, what does it mean to claim that a newborn baby is omnipotent? What does it mean for an omniscient God to ask, “Who touched me?” And what does it mean when someone says to the omnipresent God, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died”? (Luke 2, Mark 5, or John 11)
To be clear, I’m not saying that I don’t believe God to be omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. I think that I do believe that. Then again, those are terms that I use to describe God (not God’s own self-description), and maybe they just aren’t applicable. It’s like I’m asking, “What’s two plus two?” and then coming up with the answer, “Red.” My answers just don’t make sense with my questions.
For example, consider the scene in the garden, just before Jesus is arrested. He rebukes his disciples for trying to defend him by saying, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26) The obvious answer is, “Of course, you could!” He is Jesus, after all. But think again. What would happen if he did appeal for legions of angels? Wouldn’t he then be acting in a way that was opposed to his Father’s will and was antithetical to who he claimed to be? So he could ask, and yet he won’t. In fact, in some sense he couldn’t.
To my understanding, Jewish people do not speak (or even write) the name of God. It is a way of showing reverence, of keeping the commandment to not use God’s name in vain. I would like to affirm that deep respect. And with great humility, I would suggest that Advent invites us to take the risk of learning God’s name and even trying to speak it. As last week’s lectionary reading indicated, one of God’s names is ‘Emmanuel’. God is with us. God wants to be known and says, “Come follow me.” Learn my name. Never mind that you probably won’t succeed. Follow and learn anyway.
At the very least, you may discover your own true name.