12 January 2016

Named and Claimed

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
Isaiah 43:1
The wise men have been and gone; now the readings lead into the baptism of Jesus and the start of his time as an earthly teacher to those that follow him.
Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”
(Luke 3:21-22)
Jesus is named by the Holy Spirit in this moment. He is clearly called out as the Son in this moment and claimed as the beloved. My first experience with the idea that names have power was through Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea Series. At the time it was a trilogy consisting of "The Wizard of Earthsea," The Tombs of Atuan," and "The Farthest Shore" (she has since expanded the series). In the novels, the fundamental way that magic works is through naming. It starts with the idea of a 'true name,' that is given to a person as they leave childhood behind:
On the day the boy was thirteen years old, a day in the early splendor of autumn while still the bright leaves are on the trees, Ogion returned to the village from his rovings over Gont Mountain, and the ceremony of Passage was held. The witch took from the boy his name Duny, the name his mother had given him as a baby. Nameless and naked he walked into the cold springs of the Ar where it rises among rocks under the high cliffs. As he entered the water clouds crossed the sun’s face and great shadows slid and mingled over the water of the pool about him. He crossed to the far bank, shuddering with cold but walking slow and erect as he should through that icy, living water. As he came to the bank Ogion, waiting, reached out his hand and clasping the boy’s arm whispered to him his true name: Ged. Thus was he given his name by one very wise in the uses of power.
Throughout the series, Ms. LeGuin builds on the idea that the basis of all magic is the knowledge of the true names; and that: "A mage can control only what is near him, what he can name exactly and wholly."

As a youngster, this idea impressed me and encouraged me to see all things as worthy of their own names with secret power that was beyond my understanding. It also dovetailed with my emerging faith. Even then I could see parallels between Ged's naming ceremony and the baptismal rite. The idea that names hold power reaches back at least as far as Genesis, where nearly the first thing we see is God using the power of naming to call the world into being: "God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day." (Genesis 1:5) In the readings coming up for the Feast of St Peter we see Jesus not only name Simon 'Peter' but claims him as the rock and foundation of the church.
And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven."
Matthew 16:17-19
In both the New Testament and in Ms LeGuin's work the new name is not given by the family. Instead it is given by God or by a person of power. In order to enter into his ministry, Jesus was named as both Son and Beloved by the voice from above. In order to enter into an apprenticeship with a mage, Ged is first named. Ged sheds his childhood name and adopts two new ones-- a 'use name' that is his everyday name and his 'true name' which he is told never to share.

This where the two texts diverge. Ged is reminded that his 'true name' is private and that sharing it will give other mages power over him. Jesus is named as the 'Son' in full view of witnesses and that naming marks the beginning of his ministry. It is only after he is baptized and named that he goes out among the people to preach, draw followers to him, and do miracles.

It is not until he is named that he can claim his place in the world. It is not until he his named that he can claim others as his followers and name them. They in turn, take their new names out into the world to share his word.



 Le Guin, Ursula K. (2012-09-11). A Wizard of Earthsea (The Earthsea Cycle Series Book 1) (pp. 16-17, 56). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

  Lectionary Page

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