My son’s favorite is Ancient One. Mine is (no surprise) Mother. But on frazzled days I remind myself of Source of Peace.
Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s lovely book In God’s Name has become a recent naptime favorite. Strangely my young son is smitten with the most ancient of God’s names. Every time we reach the page that describes how “the grandfather whose hair was white with the years called God Ancient One,” the boy with blond curls squirms happily in my lap. It’s a mystery why this name has captured his attention, but he can’t get it out of his head: he delights at its reading and asks all day long about its spelling. He wants to know everything about Ancient One.
I’ve loved this children’s book ever since it fell into my pregnant lap (literally) as I rummaged through cast-offs at a kids’ consignment sale. The illustrations are bright and charming, and the fable that describes how each person names God out of their own life is even more beautiful. At the end of the story everyone gathers around a lake that is God’s mirror and proclaims their different names for God all at once, a joyful sound reflecting the unity-in-diversity at the heart of God’s self.
In an era when our churches seem as polarized as our political parties, I can’t help but wonder at the relevance of this book’s message. Far from a wishy-washy relativism, the truth it gently preaches is important to remember: my understanding and image of God were formed by my upbringing, education and experiences of church. So they aren’t necessarily shared by others who share my faith.
As we each seek to approach the unknowable mystery of God, we name aspects of the divine that speak to us. Hopefully we can also open our hearts to others’ journeys towards the same God, no matter how foreign they may first seem. I can learn from your name for God, just as you can learn from mine.
Quite often I ponder this question of how we image God as it relates to parenting. Developmental psychologists and faith formation experts agree that parents influence a child’s first image of God. It’s only natural that as we begin to wonder about a Being greater than ourselves, we look through the lens of the dominant figures of love, power and authority in our lives.
I want to help my children see God as loving, compassionate, forgiving and just. So when I lose my temper and yell too loud, the startled look in their eyes reminds me that the way I mother matters not only to their emotional and intellectual development, but their spiritual growth as well. (Hence my need to sit at the feet of God who is Source of Peace!)
And when I soothe their cries, teach them patiently or laugh long and hard with them, I pray they are picking up small pieces of the best of what a parent’s love can be – and what it reveals of the God they may come to know as Father or Mother.
Different names for God have been important throughout the changing seasons of my life. When I was younger, Christ as companion captured my heart. As I learned about pneumatology in graduate school, God as Spirit opened my mind. After becoming a parent, God as Mother has taken on a powerful new depth of meaning.
As In God’s Name reminds me, there is no single name for God. Even Scripture is bursting with different images: God as potter, builder, midwife, gardener, servant and redeemer. Today it is “Ancient One” that mysteriously captures my child’s heart. Who knows what names and images will shape him as he grows?
What names for God speak to you today? What names have been important in the past?