As I write, Eva, one of my daughters, is at the doctor’s office with her partner, Matt, getting their first view of the new life forming in her womb. If all goes well, this little child – to be born in the summer of 2015 – has every chance of living into the next century. And he or she will bear a name which has yet to be determined.
Naming a child can be a precarious undertaking, running the gauntlet of familial expectations and traditions, cultural and linguistic considerations, and the good sense – or the lack thereof – of the parents. For two of my four daughters, had they been sons, we had chosen the name “Abraham”. Which at first thought might strike one as perhaps overly-biblical but not otherwise problematic. Until one takes into account that we were living in Amsterdam at the time and the name would inevitably have been shorted to “Bram”. “Bram Adan” would surely have been a constant source of cheer during the annual fast in our predominantly Muslim neighbourhood but methinks the teasing would have been unbearable.
Yesterday, nearly four years after leaving the Netherlands, I had another moment of homesickness for that good land. Eva and I were driving back to Abbotsford, listening to a CD of Dutch pop music, when the song below came on. Zelfs je naam is mooi (“Even your name is beautiful”) is a touching love song and as we sang along I started to mist-up a bit. Suddenly Eva interrupted and recounted how a friend in high school once told her about having dinner with the artist at his home. “Wait, wait!” Eva stopped him, “is his partner’s name Julia?”. “Yes,” said her friend, puzzled, “how did you know?” Eva had picked up on a clever aspect of the song: the name which is so beautiful and of which the artist sings so tenderly is never actually mentioned in all the song’s verses but, if one listens carefully, is the final word the singer says as the music is coming to an end.
There was a brief time, following my ordination as a priest, when – as I was able – I would say the name of each communicant as they knelt before me to receive the sacrament. I gave up this practice fairly quickly; I discovered that my familiarity with the individual threatened to turn a moment of ineffable holiness and intimacy into one that was mundane and ordinary. How could I be so sure that the name which this person’s parents had given them only a few years before was a true reflection of the identity they bore before God as they knelt to touch the veil of eternity? Most likely it was not. Doesn’t John’s Revelation say something about our secret name, written on a white stone, known only to the divine?
Now Matt and Eva have just come by, breathless at the door, bringing me a hint of December air in their clothing and in their hands an ultrasound image of their wee child. They are so excited and awed by the wonder of it all. The tears well up again, my voice cracks, I give Eva a hug; Matt looks aside, careful not to intrude in a father-daughter moment.
Welcome, child; be sure of this: God knows your name.