what name do you give God?

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?

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  1. Thrift Store Mama on 8 June 2012 at 10:24 pm

    God as servant has beEn speaking to me recently. When I am frustrated I sing “The Servant Song” and it clams me. I am more easily able to go about my work with humility.

    Btw, the publisher of the book you reference also has some other very good books

  2. Lauren on 9 May 2012 at 8:49 am

    Ever since I was in seventh grade I’ve loved and prayed to Sophia. If I’m asked to say a prayer in public, I often address “God of Wisdom.” It is this thoughtful, wise, playful, moving Spirit of God who comforts and protects me. This is a God who wears flowing skirts and drinks tea among the stars. She nudges me slowly…ever so slowly…to act wisely.

    It has taken me a very long time to get comfortable with a Father God. Only in recent years have I been able to pray to a God who is masculine. As I dealt with my uncle’s suicide, the masculine forms of God were precisely what I needed. This Father God was silent but present. He simply sat with me as I wept or raged or hyperventilated.

    Praying to a God of Changing Pronouns is quite helpful. It allows me to be more open, more flexible, to the varied ways in which God speaks.

    • mothering spirit on 9 May 2012 at 4:21 pm

      The God of Wisdom shines through your words. While I love your description of the Spirit of God who sips tea and dances in the heavens, I’m also grateful for your sharing how you came to know and love God as Father. Watching the man I love become a father broke open this name for God in a whole new way for me, so I can pray this image with new love, too. We do need many words – pronouns, nouns, verbs, adjectives – to help us think about the God who is the Word and who is beyond all words.

      • Lauren on 10 May 2012 at 3:20 pm

        I can imagine that parenting has taught both you and F a lot about images of God. I love that watching him has “opened this name.” What a great way to express that.

        Your last line reminds me of a phrase I learned from one of my world religions classes in undergrad. Hindus speak of God as neti, neti…not this, not that. I like words a lot and I like to ascribe them to things. But I love this apophatic approach because it reminds me that sometimes words aren’t sufficient; sometimes words fail to encompass the reality. They are, at best, a symbol, and, like all symbols, they point to something beyond the symbol itself. Not this, not that.

  3. beckstrandschaferc on 8 May 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I really enjoyed this entry! My recent favorite has been “Christ of the Waves.” A prayer from “A Saint Benedict’s|St John’s Prayerbook:”
    To Christ of the Waves
    These Waves
    Are for me
    A Tempest
    I shall perish, lost in an abysmal sea.
    For You,
    Like that night in Galilee,
    They are a lulling hush,
    A Cradle of Respite, Relief
    From the labors of arduous love.
    Exhaust me, impel me
    That I, too,
    in this sea,
    Might sleep.

    I just can’t get enough of that one.

    • mothering spirit on 9 May 2012 at 4:15 pm

      Love this! I’ve never heard this title for Christ. And what an image for all the ups and downs of life…I will carry this one with me. Thanks.

  4. mothering spirit on 8 May 2012 at 3:20 pm

    And if you need some inspiration for an unusual yet wonderful image of God, read through to the end of this post at Random Acts of Momness. You’ll never think of fedoras the same way again! http://randomactsofmomness.com/?p=13974

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