“Words are simply the signs of things. But many people treat things as though they were the signs and illustrations of words.” Aldous Huxley
“To name a thing is to acknowledge its existence as separate from everything else that has a name; to confer upon it the dignity of autonomy while at the same time affirming its belonging with the rest of the namable world; to transform its strangeness into familiarity, which is the root of empathy. To name is to pay attention; to name is to love. Parents name their babies as a first nonbiological marker of individuality amid the human lot; lovers give each other private nicknames that sanctify their intimacy; it is only when we began naming domesticated animals that they stopped being animals and became pets. . . . And yet names are words, and words have a way of obscuring or warping the true meanings of their objects. ‘Words belong to each other,’ Virginia Woolf observed . . . and so they are more accountable to other words than to the often unnamable essences of the things they signify. . . . Naming is an act of redemption and a special form of paying attention, which [Robin Wall] Kimmerer captures beautifully:
Having words for these forms [of various mosses] makes the differences between them so much more obvious. With words at your disposal, you can see more clearly. Finding the words is another step in learning to see. . . . Having words also creates an intimacy with the plant that speaks of careful observation. . . . In indigenous ways of knowing, all beings are recognized as non-human persons, and all have their own names. It is a sign of respect to call a being by its name, and a sign of disrespect to ignore it. Words and names are the ways we humans build relationships . . . . Intimate connection allows recognition in an all-too-often anonymous world. . . . Intimacy gives us a different way of seeing.'” Maria Popova
“Whatever the man called each living creature,
that was its name.”
Genesis 2:19b NIV
“He saw an animal that liked to snort.
Horns on his head and they weren’t too short.
It looked like there wasn’t nothin’ that he couldn’t pull.
‘Ah, think I’ll call it a bull.”
Bob Dylan, “Man Gave Names To All the Animals”
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Have you realized the predictable difference between “what something is” and “what it is to you”?
- Can you see how much power exists in naming? . . . both for great good and for great harm?
- Can you see how finding the right words can help you “see more clearly?” . . . love more readily?
Abba, break my addition to assumptions and labels for the sake of love.
For More: “Autism From the Inside” by Katherine May
Dylan, Bob. Lyrics: 1962-1985. New York: Knopf, 1985.
Kimmerer, Robin Wall. Gathering Mosses: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses. Corvallis: Oregon State University, 2003.
“It took me a long time to learn that God is not the enemy of my enemies. He is not even the enemy of His enemies.” Martin Niemöller
Today, if African American protests turn into riots, the offenders are often referred to as “animals.” In the early American West, native Americans were called “savages”, and wartime slurs dehumanized Jews, Germans, and Japanese. Richard Rohr reminds us that we all have a viewpoint, and that each viewpoint is “a view from a point.” Consequently, he says “…we need to critique our own perspective if we are to see and follow the full truth.” To love our enemies, as Jesus commands, and to escape our own unconscious biases, we will need such a critique.
“Do not be too quick to assume your enemy is a savage just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy because he thinks you are savage. Or perhaps he is afraid of you because he feels that you are afraid of him. And perhaps if he believed you were capable of loving him he would no longer be your enemy. Do not be too quick to assume that your enemy is an enemy of God just because he is your enemy. Perhaps he is your enemy precisely because he can find nothing in you that gives glory to God. Perhaps he fears you because he can find nothing in you of God’s love and God’s kindness and God’s patience and mercy and understanding of the weaknesses of men. Do not be too quick to condemn the man who no longer believes in God, for it is perhaps your own coldness and avarice, your mediocrity and materialism, your sensuality and selfishness that have killed his faith.” Thomas Merton
“I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,
that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”
Jesus in Matthew 5:44
Moving From the Head to the Heart
- Do you understand your enemy well enough to understand his motives? his fear of you? your common humanity with him?
- Do you understand yourself and your fear of your enemy? How you or your nation, political party, religion or race may have helped make him your enemy?
- Does faith as you practice it tend to disarm others or to make them suspicious and defensive? Do you approach those of other faiths or persuasions based on prejudices and stereotypes – perhaps the way they do with you?
Abba, may practiced love transform my enemy into my friend.
For More: Seeds by Thomas Merton
These “Daily Riches” are for your encouragement as you seek God. I hope you’ll follow and share my blog. – Bill (Psalm 90:14)
“I practice daily what I believe; everything else is religious talk.”