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the Power of naming

the Power of naming



by Ann Fontaine

There has been an ongoing discussion on Facebook about the Prayers of the People and whether or not to pray for the President-elect by name. The Book of Common Prayer does not require names in any rubrics though many churches do use the name of the President and other leaders. Our church prays by name for “Our President, Barack, our Governor, Kate and all local officials.” Since the election, we have added President-elect Donald. For at least the last 4 presidents we have called them by name.


The reasons for dropping this practice seems mostly related to the pain the name of the President-elect causes to those who are terrified of his statements and his abusive actions towards women especially. It is argued that church must be a safe space for those who are victims of abuse and those who may be affected by his proposed policies. Those who advocate for no naming say it is an ethical issue and that these are times that demand a different response.


My response to this is that the Bible is very clear that we are to pray for those in authority and for our enemies and those who persecute us. Jesus, Paul, Peter all speak of this. It is hard for me to do, but it is the practice I want to foster in myself. Naming is a part of that for me. The power of naming is noted throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. By saying the name, I take my power back.


My non-churchgoing brother noted that in the Harry Potter novels “most characters in the novels refer to Voldemort as “You-Know-Who” or “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named” rather than say his name aloud.” Only a few actually say the name but Dumbledore says that the name has no power and it is only their own fears.  However, we find out in the last book that Voldemort can track mentions of his names and uses that to target his enemies, so saying his name basically sends up a signal flare once he has returned to power.  Which might be a part of the pain and fear that saying the President-elect’s name evokes.


My spiritual director modeled praying for her abuser – and I saw that it changed her. Her prayers did not change the other person and did not say what happened was in any way anything but evil. I decided to try it and I found a different sort of peace. Do I still have anger about what happened? Yes, but I am not holding the poison of that anger and bitterness inside. I wrestled with saying Donald in the prayers of the people when it was my turn to pray (I am not priest in charge) – could I do it without being sick? I do it because it is my practice and it is a decision that our church made after the election.


Also there are people in our congregation who choked on praying for “Barack” by name and who voted for the president-elect. They would find it more than odd if we stopped our practice of naming now. They already feel in the minority in the Episcopal Church but soldier on in the community.


I wonder about the idea of church as safe space and think that sets us up for failure. I have not found it to be safe all the time. Many Bible passages are terrifying: Lot offering his daughters to the crowd to be raped. Eli’s sons use their position to take advantage of women. Jephthah’s daughter is sacrificed because of a rash promise. The crucifixion.


I find myself drawn to this quote from Annie Dillard:

“On the whole, I do not find Christians, outside of the catacombs, sufficiently sensible of conditions. Does anyone have the foggiest idea what sort of power we so blithely invoke? Or, as I suspect, does no one believe a word of it? The churches are children playing on the floor with their chemistry sets, mixing up a batch of TNT to kill a Sunday morning. It is madness to wear ladies’ straw hats and velvet hats to church; we should all be wearing crash helmets. Ushers should issue life preservers and signal flares; they should lash us to our pews. For the sleeping god may wake someday and take offense, or the waking god may draw us out to where we can never return.”


Also I wonder about only praying by name for those who we think are “good people” which seems to come out in these discussions. That seems to set up a dynamic where we use prayer as a form of approval or disapproval.


The discussion has made me think about what I believe about prayer and what I think we are doing when we pray. But in the end, for me, it comes down to following Jesus in his way and prayer is something he talks about more than anything else. A few passages that I take seriously:

Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Luke 6:27-28 “But I tell you who hear Me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.”

Romans 12:19-20 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

1 Peter 3:9 Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.


Then, of course, there is this from Fiddler on the Roof on blessing the Tsar.


The Rev Ann Fontaine is currently the Priest Associate at St Catherine/Santa Catalina in Nehalem/Manzanita, OR. Her blog is “what the tide brings in” and she is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible, daily reflection on the Daily Office. She edits the Speaking to the Soul Essays and occasionally does duty on The Lead here at Episcopal Cafe


image: Isaiah’s Prayer by Marc Chagall


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Elizabeth Kaeton

I am absolutely all for “freedom of expression” in private prayer. Pray for whatever, whomsoever, you choose. Please don’t pray for bad things to happen to others. When all else fails, pray the Serenity Prayer.

In public prayer, especially something we call “Prayers of the PEOPLE”, I think there are some serious moral, ethical and pastoral issues that we’ve never before had to consider. We do now. And, I don’t think, either way, it’s sufficient to look someone who is in pain, and/or someone who feels strongly about “praying for one’s “enemies” and say, “Well, sorry, that’s the way we’ve always done it. We’re not going to change now.”

The really wonderful thing about this time in our common lives of faith is that it calls us to reexamine the nature of prayer and the moral and ethical, pastoral and prophetic leadership of the church. I’m delighted that, at least in this forum, we seem to be rising to the occasion and at least discussing this issue. We don’t have to agree, but it’s important to look at the issue from every perspective so we’re clear about why we’re doing what we’re doing.

Geri Nelson

This is a “sticky wicket” for me. As a deacon, I lead the Prayers of the People in our congregation. The custom of our parish is that no names are said aloud. So I’m off the hook, as it were. But what about those who have been deeply wounded by some of the statements made by Mr Trump? Will it continue to stave open the wound to hear his name offered in prayer week by week? Or will it eventually heal and reconcile? I really wonder about that.

David Curtis

Years ago, I had great difficulty with a person with whom I came into contact frequently. Before long, this difficulty turned into active dislike. A much wiser and more thoughtful person suggested that I pray for this person for 21 days, and that my prayers for this person were to be for grace, for peace, for security, for love…in short, for the very things I wanted in my own life. I didn’t want to do this, but I ultimately did. My active dislike began to fade as I began to view this person, not as a combatant in life, but as another broken child of God, just like me. While I still had difficulty with this person, I was able to view her as my sister and a fellow traveler on this journey to know God.

Sometimes, praying for another is not about changing the other person as much as it is about changing me and my view of others.

However, prayer does not mean permission, not does acceptance mean approval. While I find many of President Elect Trump’s positions objectionable, I will pray for him by name and with intention. And I will do my best to stand in opposition to those policies and positions that I believe will harm the marginalized, the poor, immigrants, Muslims, the LGBTQIA+ community, and others.

Michelle Jackson

Of course he should be prayed for by name. Does he not need our prayers?


[Rochelle: We cannot approve any more comments from you unless you use your full name as per our guidelines. Thanks, editor]

Saddened at the waste of internet space and time by the convention. If we had spent half of the energy and consternation on bringing the light to the lost—- the Kingdom would have been greatly advanced. Friends, this is Christians sadly bringing their political bias to church worship. If we have named the presidents and POTUS elect by name for Four years, then we keep praying for them by name. Problem solved. If people are scared or hurt by Trump, then teach them to pray for their enemies. That makes us more like Christ….By the way some people are equally terrified by Obama’s anti- Israel words yet this discussion was never entertained concerning him. To me this shows the leadership bias. If folks are upset, give them the proper biblical perspective that we are not citizens of this world but of Christ’s kingdom; changing worship to appease the weakest amongst us is not spiritual leadership— we need to be strong loving shepherds as the days are evil. Use these issues to teach what God wants us to be: royal ambassadors who can navigate any earthly power because we carry the keys to the kingdom and the most powerful message in the universe. If you don’t like Trump,
Pray for him more…. by name!!! If folks are terrified of him as an enemy, then pray for him all the more– by name. The Apostle Paul warned us to clearly to stay away from small and divisive issues which would keep us from the kingdom work of releasing the lost
from darkness and ringing the Gospel message. No matter who is president, pray for him by name, remembering that the days are short— Jesus is coming soon.

David Allen

Regardless of the custom of previous years, there is no wrong in returning to the rubrics of a liturgy.

some people are equally terrified by Obama’s anti- Israel words

As much as you may wish to misconstrue or misunderstand his words, US President Obama has never been anti-Israel.

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