Madge Van Ness, one of our fellow read the Bible in a Year participants, is our blogger this week.
I have been doing the Bible in a year challenge, and I’ve been thinking about Old Testament names. Hundreds of names I haven’t heard of — and none of the ones I have are in the current top 20 for girls. For boys, there are more: names tend to be of heroic characters, Noah, Elijah, Jacob, Daniel, Joseph, Samuel, David. They tend to be short and no more than 2, at the most 3, syllables.
I can see why people don’t name their child Balaam for instance, guy came to a bad end. Not to mention being made a fool of by a donkey. And some of the names are exceedingly difficult to say for this 21st century English speaking people, with strings of vowels and 5 syllables. And others are part of archaic slang expressions, like Great Jumping Jehosaphat! That might result in teasing. As a singer, I’d like to think I would have named a second boy Jubal, since he supposedly invented musical instruments; besides, it’s short, easy to pronounce and spell and one of my favorite literary characters is named that.
Hebrew personal names (as well as place names), at least as the footnotes in my study Bible indicate, have meaning. I’ve gathered the impression that the ones which end in -el are saying things like Sword of God, or Peace of God. Those who end in -ah might also be indicating something about God’s relationship to the child. We know that Jacob was renamed Israel, wrestles with God, Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah, and Saul (NT) to Paul. Esau, Jacob’s brother, was hairy at birth and that’s what his name means.
Do any of us know what our name means? Desire to Protect, Daisy, Flower, Beloved, Father rejoices - are hidden under the name William, Margaret, Fleur, Amanda & Mary, Abigail.
Many magic tales are based on someone finding a “true name”. The protagonist needs the demon's or villain's true name in order to control them. Or their own true name to fully access their power. (Or they need to conceal it, see previous sentence. ) It’s seems, now that I think about it, that we assume our baptismal name is the name God knows us by, our “True Name." I’m told our Roman siblings get or choose an additional name at confirmation - and in some orders of monastics, they are given a “name in religion” upon entering. I feel sorry for people in Witness Protection, because they give up their real names: but what if changing their name makes it easier to change their way of life?
And what about all the kids who feel that there are expectations, positive or negative, that go with their name? Thomases are skeptical but Tommy-s are youthfull, Marthas are strait=laced but Marty-s are adventurous. Allens are peaceful but Als are cocksure. We twist our birth names to better suit our image of ourselves. As parents, we give names that we hope will honor our family, or suggest some quality that we hope the child will live up to.
I wish there was a dictionary of Biblical names accessible so if we want a child to have a certain trait in relationship to God, we could look it up. In the meantime, maybe we could look into our own birth names, not just the literal meaning but the implications. Margaret means “Daisy”, but what is a Daisy? A flower of the field, toiling not nor spinning, but trusting in God to provide. William is close to Protector - but what does a protector do? Who or what do they protect? And why did Father rejoice at the birth of Abigail?
Each night we have read a Psalm or a portion of a Psalm since we began this challenge. Are they accessible to you? Do you gloss over them? Do you digest them as a complex, layered meal of emotion and meaning? What is the longest book in our Bible, the Psalms, about? It is read in church every Sunday...why?
The Book of Psalms is a collection of poetry and songs over a period of hundreds of years. The title of the book itself translates similarly from the original Hebrew and Greek into "singing," or "stringed instrument accompanying," or something similar. This is a book intended to be sung, perhaps an early hymnal! This is why there is so often music set to them during our church services.
There are five distinct sections of Psalms and within those sections, subsections of categories. It is an organized and eclectic gathering of ancient prayers and sayings intended for individual and corporate use. You may be able to tell that some of them may be personal prayers and some you can see being sung in a worship setting. In the Episcopal Church, we incorporate them into our Sunday services and, when practiced, daily prayer services. They have been an important part of worship for thousands of years from the Jewish tradition into the Christian. Jesus knew them, studied them, worshiped with them, and cried out in agony one of the Psalms on the cross.
Our Lectionary and we often shy away from some of the language of the Psalms. "That is too violent!" Or "why is that in here?!" So often, the Psalms may say and offer in prayer what we feel bashful to say in public or out loud. Think about the times you may have cried out to God. Were your words always perfect for liturgical practice? They cry out in authentic words of humans in pain, humans in thanksgiving, and humans in every emotion. They so often say what we may not be willing to say.
I have found these words comforting and gave breath to my emotion and prayer needs that I could otherwise not have voiced. They transcend time when I recognize that Jesus said these same words in his own language and sang them. We have read the majority of the Psalms by this point. How might you go and read one when you feel in need or grateful? "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me," are the words of Psalm 22 said by Jesus on the Cross. How might you use them to cry out to God this Lent?
The Rev. William L. Packard
I am excited to read the Bible with you, not only for the knowledge and ability to say, "I've read the whole thing," but for the wonderful things that occur when Scripture is read intentionally each day.