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Walking Our Faith: The importance of naming things

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson
Walking Our Faith
Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson

Outside my window is a large green birdfeeder, which I hung two years ago. My big club chair, where I sit each morning to do my devotions, is situated across the room perfectly positioned to watch the birds come and go.

I’ve learned a few things about the birds during this time. They don’t like economy blend birdseed, they knock half of it out onto the ground where chipmunks act as a cleanup crew. On the other hand, they are great fans of the black oil sunflower seeds, and so I’ve given up trying to reform them to my budget-friendly ways and purchased a 40-pound bag of sunflower seeds.

For the longest time, the birds were only known to me as the little birds, the big blue bird, the red bird and the yellow bird. That was until last week, when I picked up a “Sibley’s Backyard Birds of the Rocky Mountain States” from Next Page Books & Nosh in Frisco.

It’s a handy folded laminated pamphlet that has pictures of each bird, their name, and a sentence or two about their habits. Now, I can tell you that I have mountain chickadees, black-billed magpies, red crossbill and yellow female crossbill at my feeder. I haven’t heard the distinctive hum of rufus and broad-tailed hummingbirds yet, although I will be putting out my hummingbird feeder this weekend in anticipation.

It occurred to me that my enjoyment of these birds is deeper now that I know their names, because their names tell me a little bit more about who they are and what their lives are like.

We have attempted to name God since the beginning of time, and because God is beyond our comprehension, our names reflect what we perceive as the characteristics of God.

God is “Elohim” the creator of all that is and was and will be. The “Alpha and Omega” the beginning and end of all. When Jesus was asked by his disciples how to pray, he instructed us to call God “Abba,” which means “father.” This was a revolutionary change that the Son of God asked us to approach God also as our father.

My favorite name for God is, I believe, the most sacred and encompassing: YHWH. Which means “I am that I am.” It describes the very essence of being-ness. Simple words yet it barely begins to name the complete enormity that is God. In the simplicity of this name is the vastness of our universe, history and knowledge of which we have yet to know the parameters. Which makes it all the more wondrous to grasp that we are also asked to call him our father who loves us as his children.

And for exactly that reason Yahweh is my favorite name for God. It allows God to be what God is: the greatest love, the greatest mystery, the unshakable force that is always present and will never leave us.

But if we name God in our attempt to describe who he is to us, shouldn’t we also be able to describe who we are to God?

I wonder how many of us could name the meaning behind the faith we have chosen and why we joined the church we attend.

Now that so many weeks have passed where we have been unable to gather in our regular churches and instead attend religious services by video conference, perhaps this might be the perfect time for us to step back and reevaluate why we believe what we believe?

What does it mean to name ourselves Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or any of the other world religions? What does it mean if we name ourselves atheist?

If faith or lack of faith is an important part of our lives, shouldn’t it be significant enough to put into words clear enough that you could explain it to someone who does not share the same belief?

A few years before my father’s death, he sat in his car in a deserted parking lot and wrote out on a pad of paper his testament of faith. I don’t know why he felt compelled to express his faith so clearly. I doubt he ever intended anyone to read the document other than God.

I would like to think that at some point in our lives we should each do the same, whether we have that conversation with God on a walk through the woods or, as my father did, write a letter to God on a couple of sheets of paper. I don’t think it matters. But I believe this moment in our lives, in this time of quarantine and transition, is a very good time for reflection, if only to be able to name for ourselves what it is we believe.

Suzanne Elizabeth Anderson’s column “Walking our Faith” publishes Saturdays in the Summit Daily News. Anderson is the author of 10 novels and nonfiction books on faith. She has lived in Breckenridge since 2016. Contact her at suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com.


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