Say My Name, Say My Name

11 Feb

Perhaps even more gratifying than hearing someone say “I love you,” this Valentine’s Day is to hear him or her say your name.  Of course, both together is the ideal, but of the two, I would prefer the personal.  Let me stipulate.  Nothing is more disappointing, perhaps, than realizing that a so-called friend cannot recall your name.   Of course, we all have a momentary lapse of memory when we can’t recall our own names (or it that just me?), but to learn that you have not made enough of an impression on someone for him or her to bother to learn your name is disheartening.  I use that term deliberately:  the heart is out of it; or in more contemporary terms, they’re just not that into you.

What’s in a name?  More than Juliet realized it would seem.  We can conjure up childhood fairy tales of mysterious creatures like Rumpelstiltskin whose magic was diminished when his name was discovered or, more recently, thrill to the power of Michael Keaton’s announcement, “I’m Batman!”  More seriously, some names are so sacred and omnipotent, their subordinates are careful not to even vocalize them completely, as in the Jewish YHWH or G-d.  When we admonish children not to call one another names, we acknowledge the potency of such language:  “sticks and stones” are passé in a world cognizant of the damage words—names—can do.  It’s when the verbiage takes on the personal, the individual identity, that it becomes dangerous.

But I’m not interested in talking about bullying or political correctness in labeling or any of those other timely topics—that’s another blog, another day.  I want to dwell on the merits of speaking the name or names of those we claim to love, honor, and appreciate.  I recall the scene in the delightful Italian film Il Postino when the title character is asked to pontificate on his homeland’s renowned beauty; all he can articulate is “Beatrice”—the name of the woman with whom he is infatuated.  When someone is your everything, he or she becomes your complete vocabulary.  Or should.

Lately I have been bothered by the lack of interest it would seem in so many so-called Christians willing to speak out about their faith; namely, to identify the one in whom they “live and move and have their being” (Acts 17:28).  Afraid of being labeled fanatic or being persecuted on some level for their “archaic” beliefs, many would prefer to remain silent, justifying their reticence in a Victorian-aged whisper, “It’s too personal to speak about openly.”  More likely they are reluctant to be ridiculed, lest their intellectual quotient appear retarded (in the proper sense of the word).  As if just saying “Jesus” will land them in the bogs of the Bible Belt among Neanderthals with embarrassing redneck accents.  Maybe they haven’t read I Cor. 3:19 lately.

Last week my Poetry class was studying one of my favorite writers, Gerard Manley Hopkins, the 19th century Jesuit monk-turned-poet. He ponders, in his poignant poem, “A Lantern Out of Doors,” who among all humanity truly notices anyone else.   His recognition of the one—perhaps the only one—who cares is emphatically and unapologetically stated:   Christ.  “Christ minds,” he writes.  “Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd, Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.”  Having just read the entire poem aloud, I asked the class to name the one Hopkins identifies, but even staring at the clearly printed text, not one of the twenty or so students could bring him or herself to say the word out loud.  And this in a private Christian institution where to speak the name of the Savior should be part of the short-listed lexicon!  I’m afraid I launched into a tirade.

It reminded me of a time when I was in college—another private Christian institution, for what it’s worth—and our choir was on tour; on this particular occasion, we were at a nursing home.  Well-rehearsed in our classical repertoire, we were proud to perform each vocally impressive piece.  But in the midst of such production, I noticed one little old man sitting in a wheelchair at the end of the first row.  Plucking the sleeve of the nurse’s aide sitting next to him, he plaintively pleaded, “I want them to sing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus.’ Why won’t they sing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’?”  Finally, between numbers, I got the attention of our choir director and quietly requested, “Why don’t we sing ‘What a Friend We Have in Jesus’?”  Agreeable, if not impressed by the musicality of the piece, she willingly led us in the old hymn.  As I watched the old man light up and sing out with gusto, tears ran down my face.  Why can’t we sing—speak, whisper, write—about what a friend we have in Jesus?  If we really do.

Mark 8:38 puts it plainlyIf anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes with the holy angels in his Father’s glory.”

Jesus.  Jesus Christ.  I’m just saying.

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One Response to “Say My Name, Say My Name”

  1. hwaugh13 February 11, 2013 at 4:20 am #

    Amen!! I don’t know why it can be so hard just to utter the name Jesus. It’s easier, I think, to say “God” or “The Lord,” because those terms aren’t so potentially offensive or exclusive. Many religions worship “God.” Not all religions worship Jesus, and I know the feeling of fear for offense or ridicule when using His Name. Thank you for sharing…. this was so encouraging.

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