For the fictionalized historical hero William Wallace in the 1995 film Braveheart, his heartfelt plea to the nobles of Scotland is for the Scots to stand their ground united against the exploitation, violence, occupation and domination of 13th – 14th century England and King Edward I. After the Battle of Stirling and the sacking of northern England, Wallace returns victorious to Edinburgh to rally the Scottish nobles to the cause for Scottish freedom. He invokes the name of Christ, as a guiding light, as a glimpse into the eternal truth and divine nature of his cause, and in his frustration, as a last resort. Wallace’s dream is of an independent Scotland, of freedom for all Scots, noble and common alike, to live in peace, in their own way, and to follow their dreams. His cause has a specific place and time in the film and that place and time is the Scottish homeland in the year 1297.
Now, I don’t know if this is what the writer had in mind when he wrote the screenplay for the film, but Wallace speaks in a larger sense to what we all wish for – for freedom to be our unique selves, that is, for freedom from the layers of identity heaped upon us by family, tribe, nation, and species. We want and are called upon to speak in our own true name, our “holy” name and by doing so make worthy and bless the thoughts, words and actions we are about to have and do.
As Wallace utters the word “Christ,” he makes the Sign of the Cross, as all Catholics have traditionally been taught to do. It is a sign of respect for the divinity of Christ. We begin our liturgy at Companions on the Journey each Sunday morning with these words: “Let us begin our celebration in the name of a God whom we experience as Father and Mother, and whom we experience as Word and Spirit.” To which we respond, “Amen,” from the Hebrew meaning “So be it; truly.” 1 May it be in the true “name” of God and may it be true to and in alignment with the name of God.
When we say, “In the name of God,” we could be saying. . .
“In the name of Jean, or Margaret, or Tom, or ( insert your name here).”
And yet, I ask myself, “Why am I getting uncomfortable here – with my name in place of God’s name? What’s holy about me anyway?” About each of us? And, if my name is “holy,” how is my name related to how I live my life?
Our life’s quest/ journey is to re-discover our true identity. It is not a narcissistic search for an egoic identity that supplies us with everything we think we want – for that is not eternal – but it is the search for the identity sung by the soul, which is eternal. And our true identity as a child of God created in Her/His divine image is indeed holy. The ego and the soul – the glove and the hand – combine differently in different incarnations, yielding the lessons we need for our spiritual evolution.
After all, whose passion, gifts and purpose are each of us exploring and sharing in our lives, if not our own? Life, incarnation is a process of exploration of who each of us is, a peeling back, a shedding of the identities and prejudices we have assumed in our sometimes precarious journey through life. We each come into life innocent and fresh with a unique identity, but we assume other identities along the way, rather like donning multiple overcoats. Imagine/feel the weight and constriction of them all!
One simple way for us to think about this is to focus on our name(s) – it will shed light on our past, clarify our present, and give us a glimpse into our future. Each of us has many names – a name our mothers and fathers gave us in utero, a name we were given at birth, at Baptism, a name that only a special aunt or uncle used for us, a name at marriage, a change of name at divorce perhaps, a name at the loss of a loved one, a name our children/grandchildren use for us, or our students, a name given to us by a best friend, a name called out in conflict, a name we give ourselves, a name given to us by a lover, our unspoken name which is more like a song, and on and on.
I ask myself, “So what’s the first name I remember being called? Can I see it written? See its color, its shape? Is it large or small? Can I see the person who gave it to me? I make a list. I attach a feeling and add an adjective to each of those names. Is that who I am? When I have finished, I think about whether the list of names I have “allowed/accepted” create a “real” picture of me? And what about all those ‘unreal” names – the ones I allow to occur for the purposes of emotional privacy, anonymity, and/or protection? No name is a mistake – each is part of the journey – something to reject or to embrace, but each necessary to encounter, engage and work with.
Epigenetics and Pentimento.
We are each products of nature and nurture, guided by our soul’s mission. We are a total of our experiences, in this life and in lives past, a linked chain of experiences and events that shapes our deepest sense of ourselves. Behavioral epigenetics . . .seeks to explain how nurture shapes nature, where nature refers to biological heredity and nurture refers to virtually everything that occurs during the life-span (e.g., social-experience, diet and nutrition, and exposure to toxins). 2But what about our spiritual heredity, our birthright as children of God? And how does nurture (or lack of nurture) affect that? Pentimento is defined as “a reappearance in a painting of an original drawn or painted element which was eventually painted over by the artist.”3 With all these names for ourselves, what image have we been allowing and thereby (passively) creating and conversely, what have we been (actively) painting over? This is a serious question: What have we been painting over? Likely something we believed or knew to be unacceptable to someone else.
Your name is your lodestone, a strong, magnetic force drawing you into alignment with your true Self, as surely as invoking the name of God draws us into Her/His truth. Your name draws you into your truth. Just the repeated repetition of your name, the “mantra” of your true name, can call you back “home,” allowing you to shed false identities, granting you calm and groundedness and clarity. Your name, given the opportunity, will guide your course through life. In truth, you have been struggling to answer to your Name your whole life, though the voice inside may have been so quiet as to have been almost imperceptible at times. Each felt sense of even the slightest expansion of spirit is a ripple in the sound wave created by that mystical melody – the sound of your name.
The cost of losing one’s name.
We all know or know of someone who is losing their sense of themselves, their “name” – stroke victims, those who suffer from Alzheimer’s and/or dementia, or amnesia. What does it mean to know and perhaps love someone who no longer knows who they are? What do we know about them and what can we share with them? What treasure of them are we so lovingly safeguarding?
How difficult is it to have a parent not recognize you, not speak your name? But, how much more excruciating is it to not remember one’s own name? To not know who is talking, thinking, feeling, and acting, to have lost one’s tether to identity and purpose?
Inside of catastrophic progressive brain illnesses, there is no choice. Outside of catastrophic brain illness, there is a choice, a choice to live consciously. We sometimes live our daily lives “on automatic” – not remembering who we are, simply reacting, “having checked out” from and being disconnected from who is speaking, thinking or acting. Interestingly, we are often more in touch with who is feeling.
“In the name of Christ – In the name of “Alice, Stephen . . .”
Shouldn’t those be the same?
If we are fully aligned with the divinity in ourselves, with who we really are, then our thoughts, words and actions are by their very nature blesséd. But, what does it mean “to bless?” To bless is to bow to and acknowledge the divinity that already exists. Our invocation at the beginning of ritual is a quiet reminder of that reality, as we mindfully set the markers of sacred time and space.
“In the name of Laura, or John, or Jennifer, or . . . .” Would I be willing, even comfortable, in blessing my life so? Would I bless every thought, every word and every action for which I am responsible? If the answer is, “No,” then I am somehow misaligned with the truth of who I am, who I know myself to be.
The only question that really matters then is “Who do I know that I am?” Not “Who do others think that I am?” And not even “Who do I think that I am?” But, “Who do I know that I am?” Knowing is beyond thinking. It is knowing in the deepest sense, in the eternal sense of knowing. Our release from, our freedom from false, imposed identities allows each of us to do what we have come to do, as only we can do it – to be a unique manifestation of God on this beautiful, little planet, at this time of profound change.
Ultimately there is only one of each of us. You are the only one of you that has ever existed or will ever exist. Your part in and your contribution to the evolutionary trajectory of this planet matter. How well will we play our parts, how true to our roles will we be? Eventually, I won’t need to remember to say the whole phrase, “In the name of. . . ” For, when I experience the true nature of my name, the use of “I” becomes synonymous with my experience. And I speak from the divine truth of who I am. The shortened version of the phrase becomes simply “I.” I think, I feel, I know, I imagine, I hear. . .
Find a quiet place and listen. Can you hear the melody of your name?