One of my friends calls me Valerie. Urban legend has it that my mother wanted that to be my name but that she was convinced otherwise. It was probably the same dramatic flair in her that desired to call my sister “Heather Angel” which I’m told was the name of an actress back in the day. I smile now when that image of my mother bubbles up. She had her own delightful story of being named Mary Frances but always being called May. Her birthday was May first and the story goes that she was put in a May basket when she was born. I don’t really know what that means specifically (and never asked!) but I envision ribbons and flowers surrounding her sweet self as she greeted the world.
All this palaver about names derives from Samuel’s confusion about who was calling him out of sleep in the first reading from today’s lectionary. (1 SM 15:16-23) He thought it was his mentor, Eli, when it was really a deeper, inner call that he was hearing. Still a small boy, he didn’t yet understand the call of God in his life but was obedient to the directive of Eli who finally got the message of what was happening. So little Samuel began to respond when he heard his name – most likely before he had any idea of the meaning for his life – with the unconditional declarative statement: Here I am, Lord!
We are called by name in formal and informal ways during our lives. When in a situation of a roll-call vote, there is a sense of weightiness, of “putting your life on the line” for what you believe and are willing to stand up for. Additionally, when someone uses my name in a sentence (as in: “Can you see, Lois, the importance of this issue?”) I tend to wake up a bit more to what they’re asking. Thus, living into our names means living into truth and to deep listening for God’s word in our lives. Psalm 40 says it clearly to me today in the following translation.
For even in the scroll of Torah, the book you wrote, it is said that I should simply do your will. That is it, your whole desire, which has now become my soul’s delight. So from my heart I keep your ways, your law of life. (Ancient Songs Sung Anew, p. 99)