When our kids were small, we spent three months in Australia. We travelled from cities to towns to countryside, marveling at all that we saw. Wherever we went, we took our books of Australian birds and mammals, which we referred to often. Ann kept a journal, while Thomas drew whatever bird or animal he saw, looking it up in the book to identify it. We loved their names – so much more creative than the ones we have. Instead of a mere Carolina Wren (one of my favorite birds here), they had a beautiful blue wren called a Superb Fairy Wren. One of Ann’s favorite birds was the ground parrot called a Galah. I loved the flocks of Rosellas with their jewel-colored bodies.
Names are important. They identify us, sometimes describing who or whose we are – or even what we do. Family names which are passed on from generation to generation can carry unintended weight or responsibility. Names might reflect the season of the year in which we were born, or our parents’ favorite singer or saint. Naming a child is sometimes difficult because of all that is implied in a name. We choose our names carefully, sometimes after observing the baby or creature to see what is called out.
Knowing another’s name implies a relationship with that person. At creation, God entrusted Adam (whose name means “one formed from the ground”) with naming the animals. By naming them, Adam formed a relationship with them. Humans – from the word humus – ground, earth, soil – have the responsibility of stewardship over the world God created. Throughout Scripture, people have been renamed to reflect an ontological change. Abram becomes Abraham, Sarai becomes Sarah, Jacob becomes Israel, Simon becomes Peter. Mary, finding the tomb empty looks around sorrowfully. She doesn’t recognize Jesus until he calls her by name. Their relationship is re-established as Mary reaches out to him and calls him Rabboni, which means great master or great teacher.
God knows each of us and every creature by name, and as we are known to God, we should strive to know each other. Just as God knows us by name, we need to know each other’s names. But not just names – stories as well. As our church grows, each person in our community should feel known, accepted and brought into our church family. As we build relationships with each other, differences are replaced with commonalities and shared experiences. Spend some time this summer getting to know someone who is new to you. Listen, learn their names and find out who they are. Share what you love about St. Mark’s, and invite that person to join you. May God bless you as you discover your sisters and brothers in Christ.