When someone is given a name in the Bible, it is usually a statement about that person’s identity and call. In mainstream western culture we don’t tend to be as attentive to these things, preferring to focus on pleasant combinations of sounds, a loved one we’d like to honor, or at least a set of initials that won’t get the kid bullied on the playground.
I’ve come to believe that God is intensely interested in how we name each other, and ourselves. In The Sacred Gaze I spend a lot of time on the scriptural reasons for this. I can’t go into the whole exquisitely nuanced argument here (which is why you should buy the book!), but as one example, we’re told in John’s Revelation that in the life to come, those who persevered will be given “a white stone, and on the white stone is written a new name that no one knows except the one who receives it.”
I think being renamed is part of our restoration to wholeness, to the fullness of well-being represented by the word shalom. Our example of that wholeness is Jesus, whom his Father called Beloved. In the prayer he prayed for his followers shortly before his arrest, Jesus said, “[You] have loved them even as You have loved me.” In The Sacred Gaze, I play with the implications of this:
You could almost see “Beloved” as a family name, which we all share with Christ, and the name on the white stone as the one that is private, personal, like a first name that belongs to each of us alone. If so, we can start with the assumption of our belovedness and then seek out the name God has for our own self in particular. How would we go about that?
… If you want to know your true name, ask. Listen. Let God speak to you of your gifts and remind you where your passions lie. What are the values you most cherish? Who are the people you most admire—real or fictional? Which of the saints, or which biblical characters, do you most identify with? Is there a single word or a short phrase that seems to sum you up? Does it make you feel free?
Why does it matter how we name ourselves? For one thing, I think there’s something within us that cries out to God to be identified, recognized, known. One more quotation, this time from a talk by Rowan Williams on “Staying Spiritually Healthy”:
[S]ustaining “life in the spirit” under pressure, I think, has rather a lot to do with retaining the ability to say to God, “Tell me who I am.” Because I’m not going to settle with what everybody else is telling me—I’m not even going to settle with what I’m telling me. I’d like to hear from you … I’d like to hear you saying my name.
When God says my name, I know that name is true. What’s your name?