For he grew up before him like a young plant, like a root out of dry ground…
Ann my grandmother, before she was even anyone’s mother, was an orphan. Orphans come in various varieties but are seemingly always present in every culture and time. My grandmother’s variety of orphan was the sort we see every day. But in her time, orphans like her were rare. In her time, children became orphans because their parents were lost to War, tuberculosis or cancer; Ann lost her parents to self-centeredness and booze, to the human race’s baser and lesser failures. Yet Ann, like millions of others, was certainly an orphan.
Orphans grow differently, tossed and bundled back and forth between relatives, friends and the state, some well-meaning and good, others less so and dark intentioned. But orphans, as girls and boys do, grow; they grow because their growth is spoken by God Himself. It’s remarkable they grow. Un-nurtured, unloved, undisciplined, orphans physically develop like the rest of us but their development occurs in stark relief against
their apparent lacking. From infant to toddler, from school-age to adolescent, from college to marriage and parenthood, Ann grew, yet her growth occurred un-chronicled by any human parent. No narration existed about her small successes and little comfort was given after her small failures.
At each time in life, the name that came originally from a parent is to be filled with more and greater meaning as that parent narrates their child’s existence adding smaller editions to the one given at our beginnings. Instructions on pubescence, encouragement at difficult times, observation of a first step, parental advice upon a first child’s arrival, these things which define us, go missing, for an orphan. In Ann’s life these moments occurred without notice or praise, without the filling and defining power of a parental word. Orphans grow but in many ways they grow with hollow, less-intended names because their birth names don’t get filled during all the experiences of life. For the rest of us, our parents call. We hear our names. We hear our strengths. We gain definition and our names gain meaning as we hear the narration of our lives by kind superiors who bless us again and again. The authority to name is given sparingly in the world and when it goes missing who can replace it?
The ancient Scriptures describe naming again and again. Adam’s given power over the creation was the power to name animals endlessly passing before him to receive their identities. God breaking into this world’s broken sphere renamed: Abram the father became Abraham the father of many. Jacob the liar became Israel the God-wrestler. Simon the listener became Peter the rock. And with each renaming the world was changed, shape was given, to a reality desperately in need. God’s power, supreme above all others, is the power to name and with his names to reshape the wrong and orphaned into the beautiful and adopted.
So in Christ, in the God-named Messiah, we have received blessings, many blessings. But the first blessing of all is being named, being chosen—ek lego—the Saint Paul called it. God spoke and we were called out and named. From on high, names are called and one-time orphans became adopted daughters and sons. From before the foundations of the earth, God is naming… has been naming… maybe, is continuously naming. For God alone is the source of true names. All the families in heaven and earth derive their names only from this one source, the un-begun Beginner, the un-spoken Speaker, the un-named Namer.
So long ago God, the Namer, spoke and said, let there be an Ann, naming this small orphan’s beginnings. And, like the sun, moon and stars and everything else God named, she was. And despite un-nurturing, un-naming parents, no one had the power to take away God’s beginning. She grew and developed, possibly wounded but always growing because of the naming power of a creative and paternal God.
Two millenniums ago, God spoke and said it is finished. And for Ann, it was. Parents, selfish and impatient place failings on children; the lackings inherent within them become the foundation for hundreds of wounding words that seek to reshape and destroy. Caregivers and peers shouting insults sought to naively break and remold. Their broken power to criticize and maim had only small power against Ann’s name breathed huskily from a broken set of lungs stretched by a cross. In the finishing of guilt and the breaking of shame, Ann’s name had been set free.
Sometime almost three quarters of a century ago in some meeting with a preacher or kind saint, God spoke and called Ann. And she listened. He whispered quietly a version of Ann that only He had seen. The Spirit moved as it has in the hearts of those running and seeking through the years. But Ann’s ability to hear was the power to be renamed. No longer an orphan, the weak miss-parenting she received was overcome by a parental flood of the Naming God.
Recently, God spoke again. And again, Ann listened. And for us she is gone. But for her, she has finally met her true Father and been given her final name.