Monday, January 01, 2007

Eight Maids A-Milking

Happy Eighth Day of Christmas.

Among the churches that follow a liturgical calendar, there is some variation as to what this day is. For Roman Catholics, it is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. For Episcopalians (and Anglicans in some, but not all, other provinces), it is the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. (Apparently, from my short internet search, the RCs now keep that observance on January 3rd.)

In former incarnations of the Prayer Book Calendar, it was the feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord Jesus Christ--a religious ritual act that was prescribed for the eighth day of a boy child's life. Some have contended that the by-product of that event found its way to a church in Italy, where it has been an object of veneration for centuries. Alas, it has recently been absconded with. What a scandal!

The name Jesus (aka Joshua, aka Yeshua) means "the LORD (Yahweh, that is) saves." The whole notion that names actually mean something objective is foreign to most contemporary Americans. Instead, we see naming as an opportunity to either honor family tradition, or a family member (my nephew and his wife just named their newborn daughter after her aunt), or, more and more frequently, to exercise creative autonomy, making up names from whole cloth not because of what they mean but because of how they sound--and spelling them any old way; there was a recent spate of letters to Dear Abby on this subject, and she stepped to a few toes!

As a society we are treading new ground in thus trying to be original, and, I suspect, unwittingly impoverishing ourselves. Other cultures retain the sense that a person's name is a sign of some aspect of that person's essence. I still recall being struck in the film Dances With Wolves how a woman was named Stands With a Fist, in token of her capacity for self-assured confrontation. (And, of course, the movie's title is the name given the main character by the Indians he befriended.) What have we lost in our social discourse by discarding the connection between names and meaning, turning the process of naming into a form of abstract expressionism? I don't know that I can say for sure, but my intuitive hunch is that it's significant.

I'm grateful for having had the opportunity to study some Hebrew while in seminary, and learning the precise breakdown of my own given name. "Daniel" is usually explained as "God is my judge." More literally and pedantically, it is "judge of me--God." For what it's worth, if you're into the Myers-Briggs thing, I'm an INTJ, which means, among other things, that exercising judgment comes very naturally to me! A former spiritual director once told me I had a "ministry of boundary setting." If I had an animal totem, it would undoubtedly be the Border Collie, which is perhaps why I find myself jealous of the attention my wife pays to her dog, who actually is a Border Collie.

A name means something. Even if we don't know what that meaning is, we still want people to get it right, pronounce it right, spell it right. If if means nothing else, my name at least means me. I regularly get junk mail addressed to "David Martins." No offense to anyone named David, but it ain't my name. More frequently, the final letter of my surname is omitted. It irks me every time. For similar reasons, it annoys me greatly when people use the holy name of Jesus as a casual expletive. I'm not a prude about vulgar language. Very little in the lexicon of words that would arouse the attention of the FCC offends me. This one does, and when I hear it, I want to cover my ears and say, "Oh, that hurts. Please don't do that."

Blessed be the Holy Name of Jesus. the secular calendar, it's also New Year's Day. So Happy 2007 to everyone in that small but elite group who look at this humble blog!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Happy New Year to you too!!
Back to buying "Kleenex" stock