Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Who Do You Say That I Am?

Last week we got new mailboxes at school.  Our departmental secretary was responsible for placing our names on all the new boxes.   Typing and sticking all of those name tags must have given her an opportunity to think about names, something that i suspect we all do every now and then.

To me, names are a rather strange phenomenon.  From the time most little girls realize that they can one day have a baby, they have a list of potential baby names filed away somewhere in their heads.  Expectant parents spend nine months trying to agree on the name that their offspring will be known by for an entire lifetime.  This is quite a responsibility.  For most of us, our given names preceded our arrival in this world - we were named before anyone knew what we looked like, what we acted like, or before we had a known personality.  So, do we eventually grow into our names?  Did our parents have some premonition about who we should be?  Do our names and our personas really have any relationship to one another?

We have all probably known someone whom we have thought did not "match" their given name.  She doesn't look like a Tiffany or he looks more like a Bruce than Butch.  I wonder why that is.

Back to the secretary and our new mailboxes. . .

I walked into the office to pick up my mail when I heard the secretary say, "Your name doesn't fit you.  You should have a more exotic name."

No one has ever told me that my name doesn't fit me.  My name, Kris, well really Kristin, means "Christ-like.". Truthfully, I've never really thought about whether or not my name befits me, but when I heard her say this to me, I was startled.  Really?  My name doesn't fit me?  Am I not worthy of bearing a name that means Christ-like?  Maybe not.

The only response I could muster was, "I'm not sure that you thinking my name doesn't fit me is a good thing or a bad thing."

I was assured that it was a good thing.  With that I wandered upstairs to teach my class, not giving this conversation much more thought.

Apparently this was not true for our secretary.  I again passed through the office at the end of the day.  She said, "I figured it out.  Your name should be Camille!"

Camille?  Do I look or seem like a Camille?  What does the name Camille mean?  Thank goodness for my iPad and Google.  Within seconds I knew that Camille means "at the altar.". Hmmm . . .

I could live with a name with that meaning.  I often feel like I spend my life "at the altar."  But Camille sounds so feminine.  I don't perceive myself as being overly feminine.  To me, Camille sounds like a person shrouded in mystery.  Maybe that is part of what makes it sound like an exotic name.  I also don't see myself as being exotic, no matter how you define it.  I wonder what our secretary sees in me.

Over the weekend I was at a seminar where the following was part of a group prayer:

"Show me the hidden things.  Take me down to the spring of my life and tell me my nature and my name."

Okay, this is a little weird.  What is going on here?  Why all this emphasis on names, on my name?  I began thinking about the fact that monastics are given a new name when they leave their worldly life and give themselves to God.  This new name is given based on their true nature.  So what name would I be given if I became a nun?  Probably not Camille.  But Sister Camille does have a nice ring to it.

If the secretary's remarks and then encountering this prayer on Saturday were not enough, the Gospel reading on Sunday morning was from Chapter 8 of Matthew where Jesus asks his disciples, "Who do you say that I am?"

There must be some message in all of these nudges to consider who I am.  Is the person that I think that I am the person that others see in me?  Does my name define me or do I define my name?

Maybe my given name, Kris, "Christ-like", is exactly right because like Jesus I find myself wondering, "Who do you say that I am?"