Sunday morning my congregation read the text from Luke 2 about the naming of Jesus at his circumcision. A name given to Christ before conception. The “Name above all names” as Paul reminds us in Philippians 2. Our Savior’s name, one we say in moments of worship (or swearing), giving it high honor (or dishonor).
But upon reflection, I thought about the names we do not hold in such high esteem. The names of people who, for whatever reason, have been ostracized, abused, and killed. They don’t get front page spreads in the paper. They aren’t headline news – unless the story is truly horrible. And even then, the incident gets more coverage than the victim. And it is probably no surprise that these are usually People of Color.
We forget the person in place of the statistic, and we omit sharing the names of these victims. We must name the loss, the personality, the family members, the gifts and talents and passions, the irreplaceable life… but more than that, name the person.
A name given at birth, or a nickname by parents and grandparents. A human being, made in the Imago Dei, just like you and me. Beloved of the Creator, and cherished before they were born. For no one is nameless, and no one is completely unknown.
In my work as a chaplain, there were many nights in the trauma room when the person was unnamed. Their “Emergency Department” name was for medical records. Sometimes we only knew “female” or “male” or “accident victim” until they crossed the door and were tagged with a pseudonym. And then, their family members would arrive… and call out the name over and over, with sobs and pain…
Sometimes, I had opportunity to invite them to tell their stories. How the person came by that particular name. Who they were named for, or what the name meant in their heritage or culture. Sometimes, there was only anger and grief and loss, crumpled in a pool on the floor, in my arms or a coworker’s. There were no words. Only the names. Over and over, the names.
I sit with my thoughts, sad, uncomfortable and holding space for a family who will bury their daughter/sister/friend/lover. For you see, this past weekend, one such young woman was finally identified and named, almost a week after her murder. Her story, and her family’s are not mine to tell. But they are mine to pray for, to seek to change the world we inherit from her.
In worship on Sunday, we sang “Bring Many Names,” names of the Divine that inform our worship and the living out of our faith. I was struck particularly by the last verse, where the lyrics proclaimed a “Great, living God, never fully known, joyful darkness far beyond our seeing…”1
I wrestle with this unknowing, this darkness. I struggle with sitting in the tension of a world of hatred and prejudice, of senseless deaths. But this pastor’s heart prays that though it is far beyond my sight, and it stretches my faith to hope for change, there is joy at the end. Deep down, I hunger for the place where all our names are known and said with the greatest love. And I rest in that.
1 Brian A. Wren, (c) 1989, Hope Publishing Co.
Rev. Deborah Vaughn is a hospice chaplain endorsed by the Alliance of Baptists, and Assistant Minister at Twinbrook Baptist Church in Rockville, MD. She blogs at An Unfinished Symphony and was a contributor to There’s a Woman in the Pulpit. She is an avid Buckeye fan down to her scarlet-painted toes!
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