I couldn’t move on Friday. Oh, I got carpool done and delivered the lunch to my teenage son who forgot it. There was cleaning that needed doing and a long list of “to-dos” that this unscheduled time was precisely when I might tackle them. There were calls to make. But whatever the answer to my calls, there was follow-up on my end, and I just couldn’t find the energy. I lay down and decided to finish reading Traveling Mercies.
There are many nuggets of gold in Lamott’s writing, but one in particular jumped out at me. She was walking with a friend who she says “loves God in the guise of kindness and nature, although she calls God ‘Howard,’ as in ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, Howard be thy name.’” (page 260)
I thought about that. Giving God a name might make it a lot easier to talk to God. After all, “God” is such a loaded term. It means so many different things to different people. But Howard is somebody familiar who Lamott’s friend can talk to.
I remembered a time, long ago, when I was on a youth retreat. I was a new Minister to Youth with another, more seasoned youth minister. He was teaching the youth group members a lesson from the second chapter of Exodus where Moses is asked by God to deliver the people of Israel out of Egypt on God’s authority. Moses asks: What if they ask me your name? What is your name? And God responds: “I am who I am.”
My co-leader, the other youth minister, used this passage to talk about the importance of names. When you call someone by name, you’ve got power over him or her. “Hi, Bob. How’s the family?” Knowing someone’s name gets his/her attention in a way that “Hi” alone can never achieve. The youth minister’s interpretation of the biblical passage was that God was being cagey on purpose. God was too big for us to know, too powerful for us to pin down.
Which is it? Is God someone we know or someone who eludes being known?
On Thursday, I talked to Skye at her regularly scheduled call time. Actually, I didn’t do much talking. She was crying. She said that at dinner she had realized she would not be home for Xavior’s 4th birthday. (Xavior, for those of you who don’t know, is Skye’s dog.) These were big, wracking sobs of despair. I knew, as I listened to Skye, that this was bigger than Xavior’s birthday. This was a realization: “I’m not leaving anytime soon. I’m going to miss lots of days and events and people that are important to me.” I felt her despair too. Change is hard and doesn’t come easy. It takes practice and repetition and experiences of success doing the new behaviors. Plus, I miss her terribly. But my job is to support the work she is doing, to be her cheerleader, not to wallow in pain with her.
After the call ended, I was alone with my thoughts. John was away at a school meeting for Journey that night. And I realized that it would often be the case that I would be alone. John is busy holding up our world in financial and other ways. Though he will be there for the calls when he can, I am Skye’s main point of contact. My job includes both hearing what she is experiencing and learning, and sharing this with others, as appropriate. It’s another part of my job as parent that I never could have imagined when I held that sweet baby in my arms for the first time.
Well, okay, she wasn’t always sweet. She had an unbelievable temper. As a toddler, she could get so mad that she’d hold her breath and pass-out. The first time scared us to death because we thought she really was dead… And then there were the night terrors. Some people just wake up and scream at the goblins they see, but not Skye. She stormed around the house, sometimes stomping around on my bed, fast asleep, eyes wide open, but terrified of monsters only she could see. It took a while for me to learn how to enter her dreams and bring enough reassurance to calm her down and bring her back to her own bed. Only in retrospect do I see that she always came to me. A part of her knew that if anyone could help her, I would… And don’t get me started talking about potty-training this strong-willed child. Years, people. It was years before she made up her mind to be done with the mess.
They say that the stronger the child, the better leader s/he can become. I have faith that Skye will turn her power and will to good. I’ve seen it. I know what she is capable of and it brings tears to my own eyes.
I don’t have a global answer to the question about our ability to “know” God. But, right now, I like the idea of giving God a name like Howard. I think that if God was a Howard, I might feel comfortable enough to talk to God in those moments alone: “Howard, I am so sad right now. I miss my child…” “Howard, I feel bad. I’m taking my anger out on the other kids because I’m so angry at Skye and so angry at John for being away even though I know he has to travel…”
My biggest dilemma now is finding the right name for God. God is a mother and a sister after all. She deserves a good, strong feminine name.