Last Sunday, I preached about kintsukuroi, a Japanese technique for mending pottery. In most repair jobs, the aim is to make the repair invisible, so that nobody will be able to tell that the object has ever been broken. Practitioners of kintsukuroi, however, repair earthen vessels with laquer that has been mixed with powdered gold leaf, so that the mended fissures become part of the design, revealing the mystery that it has been broken, but now is whole. I suggested that in the Incarnation, God was doing just that: mending our broken clay by veining it with the gold of divine mercy and grace. We know God works this way because, even after the Resurrection, Jesus’ friends knew him by his scars; the marks of the suffering he had undergone for love of us remained on his body, woven into the pattern for eternity.
Over and over, in Scripture, people who have been touched by God are given a new name. Abram (“exalted father”) becomes Abraham (“father of multitudes”); Sarai, Sarah (both mean “princess”); Jacob (which sounds like “deceiver”), Israel (“one who strives with God”). Each of these new names speaks to who we are, not in our own eyes, but in God’s. The names our parents give us tell of their hopes for us, but the names we earn reveal the ways we have lived our lives.
Today is the Feast of the Holy Name, the eighth day of Jesus’ life, on which his parents had him circumcised and named him Jesus, which means “God with us.” It was the fulfillment of a promise God had made in Isaiah, saying, You shall no more be termed Forsaken, and your land shall no more be called Desolate; but you shall be called My Delight is in Her, and your land Married. (Is 62:4) This re-naming erases our existential aloneness and writes in words of divine presence and intimacy. God changes our experience of who we are.
Last summer, I spent two weeks walking part of the Camino de Santiago, the ancient pilgrim paths that lead from points all over Europe to Santiago de Compostella. On my final day, I arrived filthy and aching into the town of Logrono, and limped my way down the street. I arrived in a state of failure; I had hoped to make it to a further town, but injuries to my feet and knee had delayed me and caused me to run out of time. I turned into a church and made my way to a larger-than-life statue of Jesus, carrying his cross. It seemed to be an emblem of my own failure: he, with his much greater injuries, was continuing on to Golgotha, but I, I was ending my journey.
As I continued down the aisle, I came to a small table, incongruously placed, holding a plate of cookies. A sign stated that they were for pilgrims, to strengthen us on our way. Next to them were some slips of blue paper. They spoke of how we often learn to think of ourselves in broken ways, but that God does not think of us this way. And they us to push past our own failures, our disappointments with ourselves and to try to hear the new name that God was trying to give us, the one which spoke of being beloved.
So, this Feast Day, quiet your souls and listen for the voice of God. What is the name God is trying to give you?
What would you have to shift in yourself to accept it?
May God bless you and keep you, this new year and always.