Från den lilla stugan: And you shall be called…
“Do you want to buy a ‘hottuh’?” Alder asked. “A what?” I questioned. “A hottuh,” Alder restated. “You know, you could buy it with your money bubbles.” I looked into my hand and gently scooted around the seven colored glass drops, again batting around the word “hottuh” in my head, trying to figure out what Alder was talking about. Five-year-old vowels and topics can often be mysterious, so I quickly debated a way to get more information without letting on that I had no idea what Alder was saying.
“What exactly does a ‘hottuh’ do? And how much does it cost?”
“Oh!” said Alder excitedly, his words tripping over themselves. “Well, when the sun is out and the day gets warm, you can use this leaf like a fan, and it keeps you from getting hot-tuh. So I call it a ‘hottuh.’ And it costs only three money bubbles.” I gave Alder three of my seven glass drops, (all the blue ones), and he handed me The Hotter. I gave it a little back-and-forth swish, and by golly, it worked – I wasn’t getting “hot-tuh!”
When I hang out with young children, I am reminded daily that naming is important. Children name the spaces in which they play. They name the objects they find. They name games and dolls and imaginary pets and friends. And from my experience playing with children in natural spaces, naming facilitates connection. Actually, the converse is also true – connection facilitates the name. Sometimes names are functional – as in “the hotter” (The name is derived from the object’s function.) And sometimes the name depicts a “favorite,” for instance, an imaginary friend named after a favorite aunt or a game that’s named “Benji Ball” after a cool, older cousin. Young children are naturals when it comes to naming – they can experience something for under a minute, connect to it in a unique way, and identify its purpose almost immediately.
But as adults, we are equally good at naming things. We name situations, emotions, decisions, behaviors, tasks. Naming makes us sensitive and humorous and aware of all the mixed chaos around us. We name and categorize to help it all make sense. Scientists have been naming living organisms for centuries. Teachers are taught to use children’s names often – and not just when they are doing something inappropriate!
Many years ago when I brought home a 10-week-old puppy for the first time, I remember being very focused on what to call him. And that was a pet, not a child! I can’t even imagine the pangs that people must go through to decide on what to call a new baby. Once someone told me that the word that brings the most happiness to a person is their own name. It’s true for me. I love hearing my name, and I have a lot of them! I have a full name (although I wasn’t always so keen on hearing that as a child as it usually meant I was in trouble…), numerous shorter versions of my full name, nicknames, and even a nature name for working in outdoor education!
The weird part is this: I connect to each version differently. My full name is more formal, and I feel more formal when I need to rattle it off at the doctor’s office. The shorter version of my name is casual and everyday. It’s how most people know me. But my nicknames are all very individual – reminding me of my dad or my cousins, taking me back to my childhood or reliving an inside joke with close friends. My nature name is attached to my sense of place – when I am “Teacher Balsam” it means I’m on duty, in charge, and in a beloved natural space. I get to take on the full personality the name holds. It gives me drive and purpose and meaning. Just think of the names we give those who are closest to us – honey, baby, sweat pea. As our connection to a name intensifies, vulnerability and intimacy seem to come along for the ride.
I find that I also name myself at the deepest level – I name myself spiritually. Some of the names I’ve given myself…patient, faithful, loving, kind, liberal, traditional, progressive, hopeful. The thing I find most interesting about my own spiritual names, however, is how much variety exists within them and how intricately they interact with my body, mind, heart and soul.
Jesus had a lot of names, too, and I am grateful for his spiritual diversity. The ebb and flow I feel within my own understanding of God is eased daily knowing that no matter what name I’m giving myself, there’s a divine response. Am I questioning? It’s okay, because Jesus teaches me how to have faith. Am I lonely? That’s okay too, because Jesus is a comforter and peace maker. Maybe I’m feeling dark and skeptical – I might find clarity in knowing God is patient with me. Am I feeling shame? Sadness? Giddy? Stuck? Nervous? Weak? Well good news, there’s a name for each of those too. Jesus was the poster child for forgiveness, joy, delight, liberation, gentleness and strength.
Tonight the house is quiet, and I can feel the temperature dropping. The floors are swept and mopped, the dishes are done, and stacks of receipts are organized on the table. There’s wind on the other side of these walls, and I can hear it rushing through the tall maples in the back yard. I am alone, listening to the tiny sound of the pilot light in the fireplace and the errant car driving up the street. I’m surrounded by shelves of books and dark, wood walls and the dim glow of the floor lamp. My guitar, the unopened mail and a fuzzy blanket beckon. I am enveloped in the awareness that God is here, quietly leading me into yet another name. Home.