the Power of naming

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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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Margaret
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Margaret

For future comment approval, please follow the posted comment policy of using your first & last names. - ed

The operative phrase here is "praying for those in authority." PEOTUS has not yet been sworn into office. Therefore, he is not (yet) one of "those in authority."

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Jay Croft
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Jay Croft

He thinks he is, though.

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Alan Christensen
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Alan Christensen

True, but he will be in only 18 days.

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Daniel Williams
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Daniel Williams

love this !!

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Lucia Robinson
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Lucia Robinson

Some years ago I found words in the BCP that are useful in praying for one's enemies: "God bless Soandso and send them everything they need for soul and body."

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Jay Croft
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Jay Croft

Hello, Charles. Glad to see you here!

I'm living in Maryland now, but as the saying goes, "I feel your pain."

Praying for public officials doesn't necessarily mean support of their policies. With the new president, I'm going to pray silently that God gives him a little common sense and decorum.

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Charles Kinnaird
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My very first time to attend an Episcopal Church was in 1984. Ronald Reagan was the President, and George Wallace was serving his final term as Governor of my home state of Alabama. Both of these men were sources of consternation for me. As I stood in that congregation, however, and heard the Prayers of the People name "Ronald our President" and "George our governor," I was struck by the fact that I was confronted with their humanity. By calling them by their first names, I was able to see them as fellow humans rather than political anathemas, and thus was able to offer with the congregation needed prayers for our leaders. It was an important lesson for me.

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Alan Christensen
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Alan Christensen

I assume the practice of praying for the President and other leaders using their first names goes back to the CofE praying for the monarch ("Elizabeth our Queen", etc.). I've had the same thought as Charles, though, in that it confronts us with their humanity. Also, it emphasizes that before God the President isn't "the leader of the free world" but just George or Barack or (alas) Donald.

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