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Posts Tagged ‘names’

Our names for God

brookline church of christ

On a recent Sunday night, we gathered around the long wooden table at Ryan and Amy’s, the kids squirming, everyone holding hands for a brief pause in the chaos of our evening together. It was Amy’s turn to pray, and she began as she always does: “Almighty God, we are so grateful for all that we have been given.”

I’m fascinated by the different ways people address God, especially since most people tend (consciously or not) to pick one and stick with it. I wonder if a person’s name for God, the way they address him (or her), reveals how they see God, the kind of deity they picture when they pray.

Amy’s prayers always begin at that place of reverence and gratitude, the place of acknowledging our blessings. She is one of the most honest and realistic people I know, but she is also good at being amazed, and good at being thankful.

Ryan, Amy’s husband and a chemistry professor, always begins with “Our Creator God.” Ryan spends his days teaching undergraduates about the tiny building blocks of our universe, and has spent a fair amount of time over the years thinking about science and faith. He deals with creation all day, every day, but what I love about his form of address is the “our”: for Ryan, the “our” is inextricably linked to the “Creator.”

My friend Julie, a warm and lovely soul who grew up with a cold and abusive father, addresses God as “Holy Father.” Her phrase reveals the twin aspects of God’s character that she holds most dear: his vast, mysterious holiness, and his closeness as the kind of father she desperately needed. My own dad also addresses God as “Father.” He learned early on, as I did, what it meant to have a loving human father, and he believes simply and completely in God as that same kind of Father.

My dad’s parents prayed the same table prayer for many years, the one that began, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest.” They were humble people, who worked hard and lived simply and raised their three boys to love God and love others, and they acknowledged Jesus both as Lord and guest.

My other grandpa, my mother’s dad, prays his own table prayer before every meal, usually with the same words and always with the same inflections. I can chart the words by the rise and fall of his deep voice, and he, too, begins from a place of gratitude: “Heavenly Father, we thank you for this day.”

I learned the Lord’s Prayer as a little girl, but rarely prayed it (either alone or with others) until I found my way to Highland as a college student. At that church (in West Texas), at the big Anglican church I attended in Oxford, and at our tiny church here in Boston, the congregations recite the Lord’s Prayer together every week. We pray the ancient, resonant phrases of gratitude and praise and supplication, and we always start the same way: “Our Father, who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name.”

When I pray alone, sometimes I call him Father. Sometimes I repeat the “Come, Lord Jesus” prayer; sometimes I borrow a line from Shane & Shane and pray, “Be near, O God.” Sometimes I begin a prayer from the Compline service: “Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work or watch or weep this night.”

Most often, it’s simply “Dear God,” the way I learned to address God as a child. He is holy, mysterious and infinite, a big God whom I can’t define or explain. But he is also dear, an entity I have known all my life.

These days, I usually begin there, and then I often borrow Amy’s phrase: I am so grateful for all that I have been given.

If you are a person who talks to God, what names do you use?

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Well, we’re finished with Blindness. For those of you who haven’t read it, I won’t spoil the ending, but I will tell you that there is hope at the end of the book. The tragedy and horror of the middle chapters doesn’t last forever. We’re moving on to another tough book (Shusaku Endo’s Silence) starting Monday, but I wanted to flesh out a few more thoughts about Blindness.

In our discussion on Monday, my friend Taylor pointed out the flip side of the tragedy of being blind: Not only can these people not see, but they cannot be seen. That might not seem so bad to some people – in fact, it became an excuse and an easy way for the criminal element to do whatever they wanted. No one was going to catch them at it; no one would hold them accountable; they no longer had to answer to the law or, past a certain point, their own consciences. And it would certainly be easier on people who had glaring physical flaws or deformities. No one could see them now.

And yet…being seen goes along with the idea of my other post on Blindness – being loved, and being called by name. There’s a certain parallel in the world of romantic love: a woman preparing for a date will dress and apply makeup more carefully than a woman eating alone, in most cases. In a broader sense, being seen is in some ways equivalent to being loved, and being called by name. The people who love you take the time to look at you. They help form your identity by truly seeing you, and naming you. People who are always overlooked eventually form the opinion, however subconscious, that they aren’t worth anything. In some ways, identity is communal, and that part of a person’s identity disappears if no one is left to see them. (What good is it to have a name, for example, if there is no one who cares enough to call you by it?)

The doctor’s wife (remember her from the last post?) nearly reaches the point of exhaustion near the end of Blindness; she and her husband take refuge in a crowded church after a rather harrowing shopping expedition. Her husband, trying to encourage her, remarks, “You can still see,” to which she replies, “I’ll see less and less all the time, even though I may not lose my eyesight I shall become more and more blind becuse there will be no one to see me.” Even she, who has been the hope – and in some ways the identity – of the people for whom she is caring, knows that eventually we all go blind if there is no one to see us.

This is truly one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read…possibly the most heart-wrenching as well. But having finished it, I can now say that it’s ultimately a very redemptive book. You do have to “wade through the crap,” in the words of my esteemed professor, to get to the good stuff; but I would say that ultimately the journey is worth it. It’s taught me to appreciate, aong other things, the ability to truly see – and the blessing of being seen.

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