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Naming

Naming

by Linda McMillan

I have a friend who read the now-popular book Praying In Color, and she has added that as one of her spiritual disciplines. Basically, it’s coloring. You get some colored pens or pencils and you color, but with a prayerful intention. It is kinesthetic in a way that helps some people. 

I am a teacher, and I have a lot of pens and colored pencils. So I thought I’d give it a try too. I mean, I do have all these colored pencils. 

I don’t have the book, and I wanted to do it correctly, so I looked at some of the prayer doodles that other people had done. There are lots of those on the internet. Here’s the first thing I noticed:  In the middle of all the prayer doodles — that’s what they call them — the person praying had written a name for God. Some were just “God.” There were other, fairly traditional names for God too, “Father,” or “Jesus.” One wrote “Holy Spirit.” But one person had written “Gentle Healer.” And one had written “Restoring God.” “Sweet Friend” was another. I realized that people were naming God, giving God a name. Of course, God already has thousands of names, but in this context people were giving God other names, names they just made up.

In our many creation myths there is the story of Adam naming all the animals. Naming is a prerogative of humans and it’s one of the ways we organize the world. In another story Adam named God, and God took the name that Adam had given him. 

The Holy One, blessed be God, asked him, “And I, what is My name?” Adam replied, “Adonai.” “Why?” “Because you are master over all created beings.” Hence it is written, “I am Adonai, that is My name.” 

Numbers Rabbah, as cited at myjewishlearning.com

It is an act of power, or owning, to name someone. Slaves brought to the new world were often named by their new owners, parents name their children, some people even name their cars… they own them, after all. 

But can we name God? Does our prerogative extend that far? Well, maybe it does. You may remember that a few weeks ago we read about Hagar being sent away from her home with Abraham and Sarah. She and her child, Ishmael, were sent out into the desert to die. But, Hager was a prayer, and she prayed to God. Lo and behold, a stream appeared! She and Ishmael were saved. In gratitude for saving them Hager gave God a name. She called him El’Roi, the God who sees me. It’s the only time that this name is used for God in the Bible. It was Hagar’s own personal name for God.

My rabbi used to say that one of the best things about being a Jew is that you get to call God by his nickname, Ya. Of course, anybody who knows a little Hebrew can call God Ya, not just Jews. It’s a more informal name, though. It’s short for Yahweh. 

We spend a lot of time naming our children, our pets, and yes, even our cars. It’s been part of our nature since that day when God asked Adam to name the animals. It’s how we organize things. But the question today is what will we name God? We can see from these two texts — Bereshit Rabbah and Genesis  16 — that God will take the name you offer. 

Thinking on your own relationship with God, what name would you give to God? Be like Hagar and use your imagination, it can be any name you choose. Like the rest of us, God is likely to grow into the name you choose, so choose wisely. Also like God, you can change the name when it suits you. This is one of the things God allows us, we get to name God. 

Maybe you want to call God by a name in your native language or in an ancient one.

Maybe your name will reflect on some special blessing, or a desire, or just the fact that God is present in all the drama and ordinariness of life.

Whatever name you choose, offer it with love to the one who created you with such great freedom that you get to name God!

 


 

Linda McMillan is home in Yangzong, China… Home of the Pufferfish

Image: Names for God By Athanasius Kircher – (Figure 5:), Public Domain, Link

 

Some Notes of Possible Interest

This is the Praying In Color website

Genesis 2:18-20…The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. 

Like Genesis Rabbah, which I’ve introduced you to before, BaMidbar Rabbah, or Numbers Rabbah is a rabbinic text, a midrash. It’s not clear who wrote it. You can find Genesis/Bereshit online in English and in Hebrew. I was only able to find Numbers/Bamidbar Rabbah in Hebrew. 

God is big on naming, and renaming, too. Here’s a partial list…

Genesis 16:11… God told Hagar to name her son Ishmael

Genesis 17:29… God told Abraham to name his son Isaac

Hosea 1:4… God told Hosea to name his son Jezreel… His son by Gomer the hooker! Later, in

Hosea 1:9… God told Hosea to name his daughter Lo’Ammi

Both Jesus and his cousin John The Baptist were given names directly from God, via angels. 

Genesis 17:5… Abram was renamed Abraham

Genesis 17:15… Sari was renamed Sarah

Genesis 35:10… Jacob was renamed Israel, because he fought with an angel

And Simon, the son of Jonah, became Peter… the rock. 

There are lists of these names and renaming on the internet. I just listed the ones I thought were interesting.

Genesis 16:13… She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

Thanks to my friend Diane Roth who showed me how to pray in color. Thanks to my friend Elizabeth Kaeton for keeping this topic alive for me until I worked out why it was important to me.  She has written about Hagar’s experience of being seen by God here.

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Mark Falby

Interesting article. Thanks.

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