Last Words

Removed, as they were from the garden…

They thought the names arbitrary things.

He laughs at them

Gently.

He shakes a little,

In his body.

In his voice.

 

“Each new thing.”

He says it again.

“Each New Thing.

It reached… within.”

 

He sees in their eyes that they do not understand.  

He stirs the coals in the fire.

His thoughts are a little disobedient, now.  Sometimes.

He tries to line them up again.  

The others all watch respectfully.  Patiently.

He hates that.  A little bit.

 

“That great naming.

It was an act of listening.

It was an act of listening for a name

Which had already been said.

In the Time Before.”

 

Recognition in those beautiful brown eyes?  

Perhaps it was recognition.

Seth was always the sharpest among them.

 

“We have so many words now.

So many that you might lose one for a moment.

That feeling…  When you have lost a word.  

When you are so close that you can taste a word,

But still not find it’s sound…”

 

“That is what it was like.

To look upon The Creations.

And name them.”

 

It is not only Seth who nods now.

The old man knows what he knows.

He knows that this is not sympathy, here.  Now.

He is thankful for that.

 

It inspires him to continue.

He wishes them to know so much.

His time.  After so long.  Is running short now.

He continues.

 

“There was something within me.”

“A name that wished to burst forth from my lips.”

“I tried it on so many things, in my mind.

But it was never time.  Never time.

Never time to say it out loud.”

 

“And so other names erupted out and around it.

I held that name in my heart unsaid.

Until she came.  Your mother came.

But then came our dying time.  Our casting out.

After our time of mourning was through.

I remembered that name within me.

I said it out loud.

And it was her name.”

 

He is lost for a moment.

They are lost for a moment.

Looking in the flames.

Ignoring the smoke.

He does not care about the tear that slides down his dry cheek.

When did he stop caring about things such as this?

 

“It was good to name her Eve.

I would have thought that was the end.

But it was not.

That garden is gone, now.

That time is is gone, now.

It will never return.”

 

A spit-crackle.

They watch him so closely.

This is the thing he hasn’t wanted to tell them for so long.

He does not know what any of this means.

 

“There is still a name.

A single last name within me.

But the time of the naming is done.

Somewhere.

There is a something,

With out a name.  

And there is me.  

With one word extra.”

 

A time.  A timeless time.

Later.

He died in his sleep with a single last gasp.

 

A tender hand.

Reached within him,

Even as he returned to the dust.

It took that unspoken word out of him.

 

And a time.  A timeless time.

Later.

That word?

That word was made flesh.

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The Mystery of the White Stone

Has there ever been a time in your life that you’ve just been so quietly breaking?  For whatever (probably stupid) reason you can’t express what’s going on inside.  But there is this hurt, someplace deep.  It doesn’t go away.  It burns.  Perhaps it’s a time of lonliness.

Sometimes if just one person noticed, it would be so much better.  Sometimes, if the right person came with just the right words, it would be a weight lifted.  A light shined in our darkest places.

Even if our actual circumstances aren’t changed, sometimes, if somebody just new what to say… if somebody just new who we really are… it would mean so much.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”

That’s written in the book of Revelations.  Chapter 2.  Verse 17.

For my money, Revelations is the most gloriously mystery-filled books in the bible.  Yet, more than any book in the bible, it has been subjected to these attempts to categorize it, analyze it.  Somewhere along the way somebody decided it would be a good idea to simply explain all the mystery away.  I suspect that we’ll get back to the entire book at some point.  But for now, I’m going to reprint those verses above in the hopes that it will encourage you (and me!) to read this verse again, and drink it in.

“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it.”

This portion of the book of Revelations is one which follows a pretty specific formula.  John is sharing a series of letters which are directed to churches around him.  In each letter, Jesus praises some things about the church and criticizes others.  Jesus proclaims some truths about himself in each of these letters, and then he makes some promises about what his kingdom will be like.

It took me a while to wrap my brain on why I feel so moved, so giddy almost, about the end of that verse.  What’s so special about that last sentence:  (Will you read it with me a third time?)

I will also give him a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to him who receives it

After some prayerful reflection, I’ve begun to be able to put into words some of the things that this verse means to me.

Jesus co-exxisted with God the father at the beginning of time.  Along with The Holy Spirit, they sculpted the dance of electrons around the nuclei of atoms.  They fashioned the laws of physics and the very nature of reality.

They built up stars in the same way we might roll a snake out of play-do.  They formed the angels and watched them dance around the throne.  They invented the concept of a living thing and they made this plan a reality.

They have painted the sunsets and choreagraphed the motions of planets and stars.  They sculpted the mountains.  They filled the oceans.  All of it.  From things unimaginably huge through things unimaginably tiny.

They entered into human history with this scandalous plan to bridge the gap between us and them.  Jesus took on the punishment for sin that was meant for us.  Empires have built up and then crumpled while they watched.  Countless billions of people have been born and died.

And yet Jesus might know me more intimately than anyone ever has?  Jesus, the author of creation might consider me worthy?

Imagine that: Perhaps it will be the first time we meet him after this life is through.  Perhaps it is the very first thing to happen to us.

I have this idea that he will smile as he walks across the room that we will find ourselves in.  The stone, milky-colored, is perhaps the size of our palm.  I suspect that it will be turned over.  We will know that it has some precious word just for us.  But the anticipation will build as he crosses the room, and presents it to us.

The word on that stone will be the word that we needed to hear in our darkest hour.  It will be our new name.  This name will be a thing between ourselves and Jesus.  Could there be anything more intimate than that?  A private thing between us and our maker, an affirmation… Jesus love for us is not only endless and infinite, but also unique.  Just as that name on that stone will not be the name of any other person in all of creation, Jesus love for you is also unique, in all of creation.  There is no other person anywhere that he loves the same way he loves you.

The demons thought names could be used like a sword.  They sought to wield this sword and found it could not pierce Jesus.  The fact that they knew Jesus name means nothing.

Yet Jesus knows that our true name will mean everything.  I think in some sense, those stones are already waiting.  There is a stone already in heaven and it has a name on it that we don’t know, but when we hear it, we will know it is just exactly right.

Adam named Eve

Adam gave Eve her name.  According to the NIV, the word “Eve” might have meant living things.  This seems pretty likely, since the text says that Adam gave her this name because she’d be the mother of all living things.

I’m not convinved that everything in Genesis has a niave, surface kind-of meaning.  But I am convinced that everything in it has meaning.  And so I’m struck by several things about the fact that Adam named Eve.

The most interest thing about Adam’s naming of Eve is that it happens after the fall.  According to Genesis, it was Adam’s job to name all the creatures in the garden.  Presumably, he eventually would have gotten around to it.

But it’s interesting that he hadn’t already named Eve.

A common understanding of the fall is that both Adam and Eve were decieved by the serpant.  The problem with this understanding is that it flies in the face of what Paul tells us in the New Testament.  Paul speaks of Eden andsays “Adam, since he was not decieved…”

My friend Garret (who can be found at “outnumbered by 5” on the blog roll) has suggested that Adam’s sin was in allowing this all to happen.  Others have suggested similar arguments: Adam was supposed to be protecting Eve, Adam was the one who had directly from God about the expectations in the Garde)

Did Adam basically ignore Eve in the Garden?  He should have not just stood idly around, when the serpent was seducing Eve.  But on the other hand, Genesis makes it clear that he was physically present; Eve gave him some right after having some herself.

On the other hand, what if Adam was not yet up to the task of naming her.  Naming a thing gives us power over a thing.  It implies we are understand the fullness of what a thing is.

Eve (along with Adam) was created in God’s image.  Perhaps the idea is something like “You know, that thing over there, I can see calling it a tiger.  This tiger-thing, it’s pretty cool and interesting… But my help mate– wow.  I don’t even have a word to describe her.”

(Yes, I know that  he didn’t speak English and wouldn’t have used the word ‘tiger’.  Whatever word she used, the point still stands.)

Most of us accept the idea that Adam and Eve were changed after the fall.  Perhaps the fullness of who Eve was, perhaps this was much more clear to people before the fall.  I wonder if the image of God within us would be much more plain to us, if we could see each other the way Adam and Eve saw each other before the fall.

Perhaps if we could see each other through those nearly perfect, pre-fall eyes, we would say “Wow, there is no way that I can put a word to stand for the glorious image of God that is in you.”

After the fall, Adam names Eve.

Is this because it’s easier now?  Because he’s no longer seeing her the same way?  There are all kinds of reasons that Adam would no longer see Eve the same way.  He can no longer see her as clearly; his eyes have been “broken” by the fall.  The image of God within her has been muddied, distorted, hidden, because she has fallen, too.   And just a short time before, Adam had already used Eve as an object.  He had thrown her under the bus.  When God asked why it happened, Adam tried to blame it on Eve.

And so perhaps a deeper truth in all this is that man’s objectification of woman was one of the tragedies that resulted from the fall.  Adam treated like Eve as an object when he tried to use her to take the blame for the whole thing.  He demonstrated his ability to think of her like an object when he named her.

And at the same time, perhaps mixed up in all this, is a pathetic and woefully inadequate attempt at making up for the sin.  Perhaps it’s the first time in all of scripture that people demonstrate legalism in an attempt to make up to God when they should demonstrate a change of heart.  Naming Eve is like Adam saying “See, God, I can do what you told me to do.  This woman is the only thing still with me that was in Eden… but I’m still doing my job, following my mission, I’m still naming things.”

Many people believe that Adam and Eve were meant to populate the world from the Garden of Eden.  Perhaps in the specific choice of the name “Eve”, Adam is holding on to his last little bit of hope.   Making new life is still possible.  There is still hope in carrying on.  At least one aspect of what they were supposed to do, they can still do.

What’s in a name?

Words, words, words.  There’s all sorts of importance to words in Christianity.  In the beginning of the Gospel of John, Jesus himself is described as the word of God.  On the other hand, the whole of the bible is also referred to as the word of God.  One of the very first things God does is speak.  Adam names the animals.  Language is confounded at the tower of Babel.  A variety of folks are given new names after doing importnat things because the old word which referred to them is no longer accurate.  Folks in the early church speak in tongues; a language that only one person can speak.  People in churches today believe (I guess that they are correct in this belief) that they mantain this tradition of speaking in tongues.  Jewish traditons have all sorts of interesting practices around not writing God’s name down.  (This lead to that annoying “LORD”, written in small capital letters all over the place, in the bible, where the original texts said God’s name, which some people translate as Yahweh, and others translate as Jehovah.)

If somebody wants to comment, observe, hypothesize around any of the above, I’d be happy to chat about these.  But this is not the direction I’m thinking about tonight.

What I’m thinking about is that somewhere along the way we messed this up.  Perhaps it was an intentional perversion of the truth by the forces of evil.  It seems equally likely that typically ignorant humanity got it only half-right.

Names come to have all sorts of mystical connections in countless religious traditions.   Many types of witch craft and sorcery are built on the assumed belief that there is this secret language and that knowing the real names of things gives the speaker power.  This idea has made it’s way into fantasy literature.  For example, the classic “A Wizard of Earthsea” places a big emphasis on the true name of things.  The book (and to a lesser extent the film versions) of Dune emphasize the mystical power of certain sound combinations.  (It’s a moment of high drama in the book when they discover Paul’s name is a “killing word”) Even the Harry Potter books place an emphasis on wizards saying the nonsense word in the right way to have the desired effect.

The thing I’m thinking about today is how this mystical (mistaken) belief actually shows up in scripture.

Jesus is named and described numerous times by demons he’s busy casting out.  (For example Mark 3 and Mark 5) The observation I’ve always heard about this is that even the demons knew who Jesus was.  The issue is not whether you know who he is.  It’s whether you choose to follow him.

I suppose this is all true.  But it seems to be missing something.  It doesn’t really explain why so often this happens: demons name Jesus and he tells them to stop.  If demons are supposed to be liars, why would they tell everybody who’s among them?  If they hated humanity why would they help the humans faith by confirming Jesus identify?

It seemed to me that there must be a bit more.

When I was doing some research on some other questions, I came across this interpretation that I found to be a pretty interesting take on all this.  The idea is that the demons are operating on these incorrect ideas about the nature of names and of naming things.  The belief that they are operating on is the belief that in naming Jesus they will have power over him.   Jesus shows this to be incorrect, as he casts the demons out despite the attempts.  In one case, Jesus asks the demon’s name in return.  The answer, “Legion” is basically a smart alec response.  It’s sort-of like saying “Name?  You’re only looking for one name?  There’s a whole army platoon in here!  Which one of our names would you like?” Jesus then casts them out into the pigs despite this.

If you’re not a theology geek like me you probably gave up on this post about 2 sentences into it.  But even if you are, it might be natural to wonder “O.K.  But what does this mean?  Why does it matter?”

Beyond the fact that it’s another layer of stuff going on in scripture, I think there is a more important thing.  I don’t have it all worked out.  But I’ll sketch some preliminaries and hope for some help.

#1) It’s clear that names are powerful things.  The act of recognizing things for what they are, and having the courage to identify the “elephant in the room” are powerful acts.

#2) It’s easy to mistake this power, to over estimate it.  In our own lives, we can think that simply by knowing the name of something I control it.  It’s easy to think that once I have a title for an issue I don’t have to work on it anymore.  By merely knowing that a person suffers from an Autism Spectrum Disorder I can think that I know everything that there is to know about them.  By knowing that I suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder I can rationalize that I no longer need to seek out treatment.  If I call a group “African American” instead of “black” I can think I don’t need to make changes in my heart or in the world around me because I’ve changed the label.

I guess the bottom line is that naming things are a critical first step.  God wants us to call things like they are.  And then He wants us to do something about it.

When I was working on my Master’s Degree in Special Education there was this poster.  It said “Label jars not people.”  It drove me crazy!  I think I’m on the same page with scripture.  (This doesn’t often happen without a lot of work for me.  Thank you God for this one.)  I think it’s demonic, ultimately, to think that labeling is enough, that the label somehow gives us power.  But it’s pointless to avoid labeling in the first place… we have to name things, and then we have to move on and do something with that name.