My husband has a name that was given to him at birth by his parents. It’s the name I learned as we were first getting to know one another. I am very fond of that name and the associated memories I have of those days when everything about our relationship was new and exciting and shiny. Over time, as our relationship deepened and weathered and changed and survived, we gathered a few new names for one another out of our relational knowledge of each other. Some of those names were spoken in the heat of the moment, never to be resurrected, others have become part of our relational shorthand, communicating many layers of meaning in just a word or two.
I have experienced something similar in my friendships. Toward the end of her life my feisty friend, Rachelle, began to call me “Westie.” No one else has ever used that name for me. It was particular to our friendship and invoked a playfulness that we had as young women, something we both wanted fresh in our memories as she was facing her final illness. These names that are created out of relational knowledge may change over time, perhaps being replaced with others or morphing into a new variation of an old name, but the changes tell me the relationship is alive and vibrant.
And so it is with my names for God. There are those names for God that I learned when our relationship was new, familiar names that were given to God by others and carry with them my memories of how I first knew God to be. Then there are those names I have for God that come from my own experiences, the One Who Calls, the One Who Stays, the One Who Waited, the Only One. When I say to God, “You are the Divine One,” I remind myself that God is other and it helps me avoid the trap of seeing God as an over-sized human male. When I say to God, “You are The Mystery,” I remind myself that my finite being can never completely know the infinite and so I am released from grasping at the mirage of certainty. When I say to God, “You are The Presence,” I remind myself that God is always present, in this moment….and in this moment….and in this moment.
I need these reminders that tend my soul, that nudge me back toward the One who knows how often I question and yell, yet still greets me with arms open wide every time. I need to give new names to God to acknowledge my fresh experiences of The Divine One. I need to give new names to God to tell the truth of the dark places our relationship has been to and may find again. I need to give new names to God because while God remains the same, my knowledge of God does not.