And Mano′ah said to the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that, when your words come true, we may honor you?” And the angel of the Lord said to him, “Why do you ask my name, seeing it is wonderful?” - Judges 13:17-18
There are certain names that make my ears tingle and lift my mood just at the sound of them. “Lucy,” my daughter’s name, is a good example. It means “light” and makes me think of sunshine bouncing on the ocean but it’s more than that. Lucy was the nickname of my favorite aunt who was beautiful, funny, innocent, kind and loved me. Say “Lucy” to me it’s immediately the first afternoon in May, flooded with the smell of lilacs.
To know someone’s name suggests a level of familiarity, superficial or intimate. The name YHWH for God is ancient and unpronounceable with cause. “Maker” instead of “made”, God is unknowable and to imagine differently is irreverent, hubris and most worst of all, boring.
Rabbi Hana bar Isi said: “There are times when the world and the fullness thereof cannot contain the glory of His Godhead, and there are times when he speaks to a man from between the hairs of his head.”
If I try to contain God in my experience I leave out all that is God beyond what I know. That’s why if I don’t expect to hear God in the chanting of Buddhist monks I won’t. If you don’t imagine God can be at work in your enemy you don’t have to listen to her, and won’t. If there is only one way, your way to God, God has limits and therefore God is not God at all. When we mistake piety with “knowing God” all we worship is our own preferences and prejudices writ large.
This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. If you wind up at Grace or standing in front of a priest somewhere, she will make the sign of the cross on your forehead in ashes and say “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” This is because the season of Lent, which Ash Wednesday heralds, is a call to repentance. But beating yourself up won’t work. When you do that the focus remains “you”, not God, so besides being no fun at a party you’re just spinning your wheels. Repentance is an invitation to embrace your smallness, your finiteness before the One Whose is infinite and whose name is too holy to say.
You do not know the Holy One, but She knows and knew you before you were knit together in your mother’s womb. She does not need you, but chose you and has something to say for only you to hear.
Your sister in Christ