Unorthodox and Unhinged

Tales of a Manic Christian


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So Emmanuel, What’s in a Name?

meister-eckhart-mother-of-god

Besides being the 1st Sunday after Christmas and of course, New Year’s Day, the 1st of January is also the Feast of the Holy Name.

And this conflating of dates got me to thinking: what’s in a name? Where do they come from? And what do they mean?

Family names, of course, come from family. But what about our first names? What about what we used to call our Christian name – given to us at our Christening?

Born in the winter of 1955, I am the third baby bird of six. My mother, on her third day of lying in at Providence Hospital, still had not come up with a name for Baby Girl Peacock.

In walks a nurse, a Sister of Charity. “What’s your name?” my mother asks her. “Joan”, she says, “Joan.” So that’s what my mom writes on my birth certificate: Joan. And for a middle name, she throws in her own: Louise.

Joan Louise: named not for Joan Fontaine, not for Joan Crawford, not for Joan Rivers and not even possibly for the Catholic saint – Joan of Arc . This Joan was named for a kind yet random stranger.

Adding insult to injury, my name is also just a single syllable, as plain Jane (or as lonely Joan) as you can get.

As a kid, I tried very hard – on paper, at least, to stretch my name into something more significant. I added letters: J-o-a-n became J-o-a-n-I- became J-o-a-n-i-E became J-o-a-n-N-i-e.

As a middle child, who regularly disappeared into the woodwork, I wanted my name to matter. I wanted it to mean something.

So what’s in a name, your name, and what does it mean?

And since it’s the Feast of the Holy Name, what’s up with the mysterious and mystical name of God?

The Hebrew name of God was so holy and so sacred it was unspeakable. Marked out by four consonants – YHWH – it was never to be pronounced. Never to be prayed aloud.

But that did not keep God’s people, old and new, from calling on HER by every name they could think of (and to name just a few:)

I AM THAT I AM

Ancient of Days

Adonai

Elohim

O Holy One(s)

El-Shaddai

The Almighty

Wisdom Divine

Hagia Sophia

Everlasting

The Most High

The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob

The God of Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel

The Desire of the Nations

King of Kings

Lord of Lords

Prince of Peace

The God of Mary, the God of Joseph

Yeshua

Jesus

Emmanuel

The Light of the World

The Word Incarnate

The Word made flesh

Meister Eckhart, a mystic of the middle ages, wrote: “We are all meant to be mothers of God, for God is always needing to be born.” And each person born into this world is a “little word” of God.

EVERY person born into this godforsaken world is conceived as a little word of God.

And no matter our “Christian” names (or Islamic or Hindu or Jewish or Mormon or Agnostic names), we are put on this earth to name and proclaim all that is holy and good –

– in ways both little and large.

To name it and proclaim it — in the midst of all that is NOT so holy and NOT so good.

In the fallout of all things 2016,

this 2017, let’s make a resolution or two,

that with God’s help, we remain faithful to, all the year long.

To no longer label and segregate our neighbors  –but — to love and serve our neighbors, as ourselves;

To tame our wicked and wounding tongues,

so that we may make flesh these healing words of God:

Faith,

Hope,

and

Charity.

And the greatest WORD of these is — LOVE.

JoaniSign


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What’s in a Name?

baby-names1 - you named we what 2

My mother ran out of names.

Providence Hospital, DC, March 3, 1955: Three days old, I lay swaddled in the nursery nameless.

Preceded by a sister, Maureen Ann, and a brother, Timothy Francis, it seems my mom had already exhausted a very brief list of favorite names and could not come up with one for baby number three – me!

The discharge nurse told my mom I had to have a name to be discharged. “What shall I write  on the birth certificate? “ My mom responded with a question. “What’s your name? she asked the nurse. “Joan”, she said. “Then we’ll call her ‘Joan’,” my mom said, “and tack on ‘Louise’. That’s my middle name. That’ll work.”

So I went home as JoanJoan Louise.

Growing up I searched for a grander story – a better story to tell. A grandiose little Catholic soul, I believed I was named for Jean d’Arc. A lacquered portrait of Joan hung on my bedroom wall – a First Communion present from my second cousin, the priest – Father Buddy Litkey. Shining in her armor, mounted on a white horse, banner furled, and wielding her sword, I believed myself her heir apparent.

So I canonized myself – St. Joan.

Yet even sanctified, It did not take long to grow bored with my monosyllabic name. (Don’t you love it that “monosyllabic” has five syllables?:)) Such a plain Jane name is Joan. So at my confirmation – as little RC kids traditionally do – I chose a saint to be my patron.

I chose “Veronica”: the woman of legend who wipes the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary. Her beautiful name literally means “true icon”. So beautiful. But for none of the above reasons did I choose it.

I chose it because it was the sexiest damn name this little 10 year old could come up with. Four syllables, exotic, and musical it rolled off the tongue –

Veronica!

But everyone still called me Joan. Well Joani actually (as I spell it now).

As a kid I tried to stretch my name on the page by adding letters: Joan, Joanie, Joannie. In my hippy dippy adolescence I chopped off a couple– an “n” and an “e” in homage to Joni Mitchell. I still have all of Joni’s music on my iPod, but I held on to the “a” for my own namesake:

Joani.

Two weeks ago at SpeakeasyDC’s “Unhinged”, Dara, one of the storytellers, introduced us to her husband’s alter egos. Struggling in their marriage, she met them all in therapy. Out came Michael, a shy and vulnerable boy. Out came drill sergeant, Charlie, his champion and protector.

Her husband, who suffers from DID, Dis-Associative Identity Disorder, by any other name is still her husband. All three gentlemen sitting on the couch were fragments of the man she loves. Shattered by trauma, to cope and survive, he gives them different names.

Each week in therapy they would pick up the pieces, befriending the fragments, collecting them together, both hoping to be be healed, both hoping to be made whole.

And I too go to therapy — twice monthly — to remember my name. I go to recall who I am, to recall just who my God calls me to be – in this time and in this place. And in ten years time, who I call myself has changed many times over.

Names change as lives change. Biblically speaking, on the way to the Promised Land, Sarai becomes SarahAbram becomes Abraham. Wrestling with angels, Jacob is renamed as Israel.

Even the Holy One, whose name was never to be spoken, has too many names to number: Elohim, el Shaddai, YWHW, I AM, Emmanuel – just to name a few.

So what’s in a name?

Well for each and everyone of us  – a whole, whole lot.

Name them and claim them.  Count them up and collect them. Try to understand them. Hold them close and cherish them. Good. Bad. Indifferent. Birth to death, each and every one is an integral and indispensable part of you.

Thanks be to the nameless God — who calls us all by name — whatever that might be.

JoaniSign