God and The Act of Naming

My husband and I have gone bird-wild.

It started with a finch sock that we hung, with curiosity, from a tiny tree in our backyard.  When the finches indeed descended, we got some bark butter to put on the tree itself because we heard it attracted woodpeckers.  When that turned out to be true, we started throwing down seeds on the ground, too.  Now: birds!  So many birds!

And that’s exactly what it looked like at first, too: birds!  Big birds and fat birds and tiny birds but just…birds.  And then one day a small, alert little fellow arrived on a branch to attack the bark butter and then the finch sock, and I noticed that he was distinct: patterned in black  and white with a distinct red blaze at the top of his head.

I looked him up on my phone, and found his twin: a downy woodpecker.

After that, for both of us, it became an addiction.  The phone has become our go-to guide, and now we have identified all sorts of species in our yard: goldfinches, black-capped chickadees, doves, downy and red-bellied woodpeckers, cardinals, jays.  For my husband’s birthday, I am getting him a bird identification guide and a pair of binoculars.

Most importantly, though, the act of naming the birds – of differentiating them, identifying them – has made them meaningful to us.  They are no longer just “birds”: we know them by name, can identify them by habit, know what they like to eat and how they behave.  The act of being able to name them has enlivened them to us.

And so with God.  It never occurred to me before how much God is a God of Names – He loves giving them.  He named His people a particular name.  He gives people new names after they have come to know Him.  He permitted Adam to name all of His creatures.  He invites us to call Him by His name.  And Scripture is replete with references to naming in the new heaven and the new earth, too.

It touches me that God does not see us as a massive monolith, as a darkened herd of “people” or “humans.”  We are individuals, with names – names given to us by our parents but also, I believe, names that God alone has for us and knows us by.  Those names differentiate us, mark us, render us as previous in His eyes, and His willingness to give His name to us, too, is a symbol of relationship, curiosity, care.

It easy to think of God as being cosmically above everything, and we must acknowledge that in the grand scheme of affairs our lives are indeed a vapor.  The human lifespan is mist before an eternal God.  But He knows us by name, and that alone speaks to His desire for connection, to know us not just as His people, but also as individuals.

On many days, I suspect that is what people need to hear most.




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