Learning Our Name

A few weeks ago at a retreat I was a part of, we were making our way around the circle saying our names. I am not sure how it happened, if it was seem thing I or someone else said, but people began to give not only their first but their middle names as well. Most people knew one another before this retreat but it was interesting how, when folks used both first and second names, the circle seemed fresh, new, and people seemed to be meeting one another in a different way. Questions flew about the room as to how middle names were chosen, what the stories were that were part of that name. Something in that gathering of people was changed, was opened up by hearing aloud a fuller name for people they had known for some time. It was a fascinating and powerful experience.

Yesterday I was speaking on the phone to our older Seattle son who is a preschool teacher. It is one of my great joys to hear him talk of the children who come into his life. He becomes animated and his voice fills with joy as he tells funny and sweet stories of these little one. He was telling me about a new student, a little three year old girl whose family does not speak English at home. This little one is now maneuvering her way in a world of other children, playing, and learning English as she goes. She also is not called by her given name at home but by special pet names we all use in families. Each family has its own way of doing this…Buddy, Sweety, Kiddo….you know what I mean. And because of this the girl did not really answer or turn in recognition to the teacher’s calling out her name in the group. “We are helping her learn her name.”, my son said.

His words went deep into me. What an amazing gift to give to another person… to help them learn their name. Many times we call ourselves names that are not our real name. I have known those who call themselves ‘stupid’ or ‘irresponsible’ or ‘loser’ or even worse ‘worthless’. Sometimes these are names given to people at an early age and it takes that person a lifetime to be taught their real name. In the meantime, the damage of that false name can harm them and those around them with its lies. The pain of not answering to your real name can have lasting scars.

This past Sunday in the Christian household we began the long journey of Lent together. The scripture we heard was of Jesus rising out of the waters of baptism and hearing God’s voice name him…..Beloved. It was a name that blessed him and went with him into the wilderness where he would need to cling to both the blessing and the name. This name…Beloved…is also given to each of us. As images of the One who breathed us into being, this name is part and parcel of that very Breath. We carry it with us even when we can’t remember it, even when others may call us otherwise.

Like the little girl in my son’s class, most of us need to learn that name. It does not come easily to us. The world can see to that in a myriad of ways. But that does not make it untrue. Each of us is Beloved. Sometimes we simply need teachers who walk with us, stand beside us, read stories to us, take us to the playground, help us unwrap our sandwich at lunchtime, settle us down for an afternoon nap. Those who by their actions and words remind us of our name. Beloved.

Who has helped you learn your name? Who in your life continues to look at you and help you remember that your are, indeed, Beloved? How will you be that teacher, that companion that helps another learn their name?

The fullness of our names is important. To speak our names and to claim those names helps to change the energy in a room and the power in the world. May we carry with grace all our names…..especially Beloved….into the days ahead. There just might be wilderness places in which we will need to cling to those names and remember who we truly are.


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