Summary: Live up to the promise of your name
Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy: “What’s in a name? The history of the human race is in names. Our objective friends do not understand that, since they move in a world of objects which can be counted and numbered. They reduce the great names of the past to dust and ashes. This they call scientific history. But the whole meaning of history is in the proof that there have lived people before the present time whom it is important to meet.”
Reading the Chronicles of Narnia as a boy of about 10, I was captivated by the tales of lions, witches, magic wardrobes and the fight between good and evil. I remember playing sword games in the garden of our family home for weeks after I read the first book, imagining that I was in a fantasyland fighting against evil forces.
All the great stories of the world elaborate one of two themes:
1) That all life is an exploration, a journey or (2) that all life is a battle. The Narnia books were full of both exploration and battles. Of course I was not an inhabitant of Narnia, I was not fighting evil forces and Aslan, the great lion was a character in a story. But, still, there were two things essentially right about what I experienced. One, there was far more to existence than had been presented to me in home and school, in the streets and alleys of my town, and it was important to find out what it was, to reach out and explore. Two, life was a contest of good against evil and the battle was for the highest stakes - the winning of good over evil, of blessing over curse. Life is a continuous exploration of ever more reality. Life is a constant battle against everyone and anything that corrupts or diminishes its reality.
After a few years I was forced to abandon that fantasy, and I did it readily enough when the time came, for I have always found that realities are better in the long run than fantasies. At the same time I found myself under pressure to abandon the accompanying convictions that life is an adventure and that life is a contest. I was not, and am not, willing to do that.
Some people as they grow up become smaller. As children they have glorious ideas of who they are and of what life has for them. Thirty years later we find that they have settled for something grubby and inane. What accounts for the exchange of childhood excitement to the adult apathy?
Other people as they grow up become bigger. Life is not an inevitable decline into dullness; for some it is a climb upwards into excellence. It was for Jeremiah. Jeremiah lived about sixty years. Across that life span there is no sign of decay or shriveling. Always he was pushing out the borders of reality exploring new territory. And always he was vigorous in battle, challenging and contesting the shoddy, the false, and the vile.
How did he do it? How do I do it? How do I shed the fantasies my youth and at the same time embrace the realities of life? How do I leave the childish yet keep the deeply accurate perceptions of the child that life is an adventure, that life is a contest?
1 WHAT’S IN A NAME?
The book of Jeremiah begins with a personal name, Jeremiah. Seven more personal names follow: Hilkiah, Benjamin, Josiah, Amon, Judah, Jehoiakim, Zedekiah. The personal name is the most important part of speech in our language. The cluster of personal names that opens the book of Jeremiah strikes exactly the right note for what is most characteristic of Jeremiah: the personal in contrast to the stereotyped role, the individual in contrast to the blurred crowd. The book in which we find this most memorable record of what it means to be human in the fullest, most developed sense, begins with personal names.
Naming focuses the essential. The act of naming, an act that occurs early in everyone’s life, has enormous significance. We are named. The name sets the course on the oceans of reality in pursuit of righteousness.
At our birth we are named, not numbered. The name is that part of speech by which we are recognized as a person. We are not classified as a species of animal. We are not labeled as a compound of chemicals. We are not assessed for our economic potential and given a cash value. We are named. What we are named is not as significant as that we are named.
Jeremiah was named and immersed in names. He was never reduced to a role or presented as a statistic or catapulted into a historical crisis. His identity and significance developed from the event of naming and his response to naming. The world of Jeremiah does not open with a description of the scenery or a sketch of the culture but with eight personal names.