Consideration 3: What’s in a Name?

Names are important and powerful things.

Even in our everyday life, there is a weird thing that we bump into, when describing a person who is known by a different name or title to lots of different people.  For example, at a family gathering, a single person might be known simply by her first name to half the people present; she might be called ‘Auntie’ to some, and ‘mom’ to others.

When we tell a story about this person, we are faced with a number of equally unsatisfying choices.  We can choose one, and assume that everbody knows who we are talking about.  We can try to link them all together and create an awkward, hyphenated name-title that sounds only a bit familiar to everybody.  Or we can allude to her with vague words, pronouns mostly, that makes the whole thing seem vague, as if we don’t know who we specifically are referring to.

In contexts like The Faith-ing Project, there is a similiar problem.  There are many names for the object of our spiritual practices.  It might turn out that there are more fundamental differences between these various names than there are between the single person who is known as sister, aunt, or cousin.  Despite the idea that there might be more fundamental differences, there is some use in this metaphor, too.  Because the young children who call a person “Auntie” probably see a different side of the person than the adults who refer to her by her first name.  Similarly, all the people who refer to the divine by the name “God” are probably having a similiar experience.

Most of the time, I am using the term ‘God’ in these spiritual practices here.  This is the name most deeply to me.  I am not interested in convincing you that you should use that term.  If there is a name or title that connects with you, I hope that you will simply replace the word, each time you see it.  I believe that most of these exercises are relevant to most people, regardless of what word they chose to describe the highest power; I believe that there is a rich and wonderful diversity of beliefs out in the world, and I don’t think it is a viable end game to reduce all of these beautiful traditions into a single super-religion.  When it comes to spiritual exercises, though, I think there is a lot of valuable potential that most of us are disconnected from.   So my hope for you is that you will explore something a little outside your tradition, and consider whether it might inform and strengthen the tradition you are a part of.


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