Hallowed Be Thy Name

So I hadn't meant to be working on this particular post here at 1 in the morning, but life has a funny way of throwing things at you that you don't entirely plan. I'm awake, and I need to pray.

"Hallowed be thy Name." I'm not sure which is the biggest stumbling block: "Our Father," "Who art in Heaven," or this one: "Hallowed be thy Name." As in when people say, "You have your name for God, I have mine," as if to suggest that there is some reality in the rivalry between the names. And yet, note that nowhere does the Lord's Prayer actually name God other than as "Father." Maybe there is a gender issue at stake here, although I think not. Rather, the prayer is simply stating the fact that God has a Name and that it should be sanctified, kept holy, hallowed.

I know, I've heard all about "the Christian God," as if there could be others. As if somehow the Christians had their own private god (note the lowercase), while other tribes of humanity had theirs. And I do worry sometimes when I read the Old Testament about the way in which God seems so particular about Israel. But the more I think about it, the less the problem seems to be how or by what name human beings name God and more that we name God in the first place, i.e. that we can. Bear with me here. There are complicated (but not all that humanly unusual) reasons for my being awake at the moment and the blood is pounding in my veins as if my heart would burst. Which, in it way, it might. But I know that the thing that I need to do is hang on right now to this thought: "Hallowed be thy Name." God has a Name, and it is the holiest thing in the world.

What's in a name? "Rachel" means "lamb" or "ewe lamb," which I always thought kinda lame. You know, "Great, I'm a sheep. I don't even particularly like sheep. Why couldn't I be named something more dashing like, say, 'Toni' or 'Nerissa'?" Fact: I started keeping a diary when I was eleven or twelve, at about which point I also read The Diary of Ann Frank. I was blown away (to put it mildly) by how well she wrote when she was not much older than I was then, as well as by how perceptive and patient she was with the people with whom she and her family were enclosed. And I was much taken by the fact that she wrote her diary not to herself as such, but "Kitty." "Dear Kitty": as if there might be someone to actually read her letters to herself, as if she was already the writer that she hoped to be when she grew up, for which keeping the diary was an essential exercise.

I wanted to be a writer (or so I told myself at the time), so clearly I needed someone to address my diary to. Thus "Toni"--with an "i", of course. (This was the '70s, after all.) I'm not sure I ever had a very clear image of "Toni," just that she wasn't quite myself, maybe myself cooler and more grown-up. Definitely prettier and smarter. "Nerissa" I got from Shakespeare (I had to look it up just now, I had forgotten that it was The Merchant of Venice), which must mean that I switched to writing to "Nerissa" sometime in high school because that's when the BBC production of the plays started airing on PBS, and I was trying to watch all of them. (I'm cheating here, I checked on imdb.com, of course. This play aired in December 1980, but I don't remember when exactly I saw it on TV.) I don't remember how long I stuck with "Nerissa", possibly through college, at which point I stopped addressing my diary as letters and soon thereafter stopped keeping it regularly for a number of years.

And now I'm "Fencing Bear." Fulton Brown, to give my full married name. I wonder that all those years ago when I first got married I didn't change my name to "Brown, " so that I would share my last name with my husband and, later, child. But "Rachel Brown" had problems of its own: that was my grandmother's maiden name, and I had spent my entire childhood trying to live up to my beautiful, elegant, 5'2" tall, size AA shoe-wearing grandmother. She tried to convince me once (about when I was 10) that she, too, had at one time in her life been, in her words, "fat," so she could understand my pain. I'm pretty sure I weighed more than she did at that point; I don't think I was quite as tall. What I do remember is her criterion for making sure that she wasn't eating too much: "Whenever I can't see my hip bones, I know I need to cut back." "Oh," I said, "I tend to look at my collarbones." "Oh, no," she replied, "I can always see those." Fat, my foot. Did I mention that she died in 1981, quite possibly about the time my diary changed its name from "Toni" to "Nerissa"?

Names. We depend so much on names. Names contain and define us. Names give us character. Names validate us as individuals. But names also separate us, isolate us off as consciousnesses. I remember one of the first yoga classes I ever attended, back in the day before there were yoga studios on every block. This was the '80s in Houston and the only yoga classes that I had heard of--in fact, the only one I ever did was taught by a woman out of her home. We sat on the carpet in her living room, itself empty of furniture, and did headstands and a few other poses. I can't really recall. I do remember that at one point the teacher wanted to suggest something to one of the students--she didn't move around the room while we were practicing, just sat on her cushion in the front--and she laughed and said, "Oh, dear, I've forgotten your name! But then names don't really matter. You are me and I am you. We aren't separate at all."

At the time, I rolled my eyes (inwardly, natch) and never went back to the class--the teacher was simply too personal and, let's face it, weird (I think she was wearing a turban).* But that moment has stuck with me ever since. And, in a way, I suppose she was right: we don't need names when we are one-on-one, only when we are trying to talk about somebody in the third person. Or, as I am finding in my classes much to my frustration this quarter, when we want to call on someone. "You, there, in the red shirt!" is a little off-putting. It suggests we don't really care, certainly not enough to identify that other person as somebody outside of this limited interaction. Which makes it even odder to realize, in this context, how people in the park tend to tell each other the names of their dogs but not their own. "My dog, my self?" I am, to a whole new group of people whom I have met this past month, "Joy's mom." Actually, that's not so bad. "I am the mother of Joy."

One of the things that I do (or, more accurately, have been doing these past couple years) for my church is to take turns writing the Prayers of the People for our Sunday worship services. Other of my fellow writers tend to pay most attention to the particularities of our petitions (we all follow the outline given in the Book of Common Prayer, but adjust as the occasion suits). But it always seems to me most important to get the salutations just right. I won't say I'm exactly proud of the prayers that I've written; really great prayers like those in the prayer book are actually (I've found) incredibly difficult to write, like great poetry. But I do like some of the names.

"Risen Lord..."

"Almighty God, the Alpha and the Omega, ruler of all the rulers of the earth..."

"Son of Man, who breathes out the Holy Spirit over all who believe in you..."

"Stone whom the builders rejected, who has become our salvation and song..."

"Son of God, whose rebirth to life we celebrate today..." (these were the salutations that I wrote this year for the Sunday after Easter)

"Firstborn of the dead, who died and yet came back to life...."

Christian, yes, but it's rare that I actually use the name "Jesus" or "Christ," except in the closing collect which our presider reads:"God through whose death we have been brought forth into life, open for us the gates of your righteousness that we may pass through them into your Kingdom. Be with us even as we, like Thomas, find ourselves beset with doubts that we may go forth into the world bearing witness with the apostles to your truth. In the name of the one whom you have exalted to sit at your right hand, who is Christ our Lord.Amen." Christians pray to God the Father "through Christ" because it is Christ, more properly, Jesus, the Christ, who made it possible for us to pray to God as Father. But other than "Father", we don't really properly have a name for God. "God" is not a name, not like "Jesus" or "Mary." I know some people say "God" as if it were a name, but really it's more of a placeholder for the Unnameable: Being, Reality, what have you. Which is why it is such nonsense to talk about "the Christian God" as opposed to "somebody else's God." (And, no, I don't believe in multiple realities, just multiple perspectives on Reality. Call me a Platonist or, better, an Augustinian.)

And yet, we address this unnameable Reality as "you." "Dear God, it's me, Rachel..." What we really mean, if we think about it, when we say things like "the Christian God" is "the revelation of God through Jesus Christ." And then we are in a position of historical specificity. That's the whole point of the Incarnation: that it happened in time and place, at a particular time and place in human history. Which is how "God" comes to have a name by which we can address Him as "you." "O for a thousand tongues to sing my dear Redeemer's praise, the glories of my God and King, the triumphs of His grace. My gracious Master and my God, assist me to proclaim and spread through all the earth abroad the honors of thy Name." You really gotta love Charles Wesley. I've been singing this hymn in my heart all day. And now I learn from Wikipedia that Wesley wrote it in celebration of the renewal of his faith after a period of extreme doubt. "Jesus! the Name that charms our fears and bids our sorrows cease; 'tis music in the sinner's ears, 'tis life and health and peace."

"Do you believe in God the Father Almighty, creator of Heaven and earth?" we asked ourselves this morning (actually, now yesterday morning) as we prepared for the baptism of two of the babies in our parish. Do you trust in God? Do you believe that the world is a creature, a made-thing of God's? These are difficult propositions. And yet, not so very difficult after all. Do you trust in the Really Real that He/She/It loves you? Do you believe that there is some purpose to your existence, that you were brought into being for a reason and that that reason encompasses the whole of the world, every rock, plant, animal, and person within it? Maybe not. Maybe it really is hard to the point of impossible to trust in Love. Maybe it really is hard to the point of impossible to believe that what we do in our lives matters beyond the immediate effect that we have on those around us or on our environment. Or maybe everything that we do is caught up in the sacred and, therefore, in Love, who made us. "We are creatures of love," as the Talking Heads song goes. Children of Someone who loves us.

I suppose it really is hard to believe that that Someone took flesh and lived and suffered among us as an actual, historical man, but I have never been able to understand why we should want to believe anything other than that He/She/It did. "Disgusting," the medieval Jews would say, "to think that God would pollute Himself by entering the world through the genitals of a woman." "Blasphemy," the medieval Muslims would say, "to say that God would differentiate Himself in this way." I'm not sure the medieval Hindus or Buddhists would care, since of course the gods take on human avatars from time to time, but I suspect they would say that it is "ridiculous, nevertheless, to suggest that creation has any meaning. It's all illusion, after all." I'm paraphrasing, so please don't quote me on this. The point is, I do understand that there are real implications for accepting the story of God's interaction with humanity as Christians tell it. It's just that I don't see any positive reason that I would want the story to go any other way.

It is now nearly 3 in the morning and I still haven't gotten to the part about "hallowing" the Name. I am struck from time to time, especially during our Communion service, how hard it is to take seriously the idea of something being made holy, set apart from the ordinary wonder of creation so as to remind us all the more powerfully of God. It's even harder to accept the idea of something being so holy (like the Eucharist) as to be able to bear the very presence of God, unmediated, as it were, through the everyday act of creation. But then I'm a Protestant. I would hope Catholics have a stronger sense of the Real Presence; I certainly wish that I did. But in the Lord's Prayer, it is just the Name that is to be hallowed, not anything else. Why the Name? Because the Jews think of God's Name as a power in itself? There's probably some of that in the prayer that Jesus taught. But then if the Name itself is powerful, why ask that it be "hallowed" unless it means that there is something we, human beings, should do with the Name? Like sing it in our hearts, holding the thought always before our minds how much God loves us and how much He wants us to return that love.

*No, I don't know if I would still find her weird, but my twenty-year-old self did.


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