What's in a Name?
Recently, I saw an article that lifted up the Top 10 names for boys and girls this past year. I am amazed at the thought parents put into the naming of their children. Oh sure, they could turn to one of those "books of baby names" to come up with a suitable name for their child. The problem with that is you end up with a lot of "James', Williams', Johns', and Steves'!
It seems today, however, that parents have moved past the "common names" to those which have a special meaning, and are anything but normal. Case in point — my grandchildren have names I would never have picked for them. However, I could not think of any other name than what they have now to better suit them. They have special names with special stories behind them, and I am grateful my daughter and son-in-law discovered the right names for their kids.
What is in a name is also important when we want to express who God is for us. In the English translation of the Bible, we read the name LORD to describe who God was for the Israelites. In the Hebrew language it was spelled YHVH or YHWH. In English, it is written and spelled Yahweh. There is, however, much more behind the name of God that literally "breathes" us into being.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner tells us the background that when we say God's name we are actually "breathing." Kushner tells us that the holiest part of the ancient Jewish Temple — a room so sacred that only the High Priest could enter, and then only once a year on Yom Kippur. The High Priest would enter the Holy of Holies with a rope tied around his leg, so if he ever fainted or dropped dead, someone could drag him out — because no one could enter that sacred place to retrieve the body. Once inside, the High Priest had only one thing to do, something he had prepared to do for months. He would say the unspeakable four-letter name of God: Yod. Hey. Vav. Hey. (YHVH). Kushner says the reason God's name is unpronounceable is because the name of God is the sound of breathing. The High Priest would go into the holiest of rooms in the Temple and simply breathe. Lawrence Kushner, God Was in This Place and I Did Not Know: Finding Self, Spirituality and Ultimate Meaning (Jewish Lights Publishing, 1993). Several years ago, pastor and author, Rob Bell, made a group of videos he called "Nooma." That word is the Greek for breath. In one of his videos (which you can find on YouTube), "Breathe," he shares a similar idea that Kushner shared. Bell asked the question, "Is the name of God the sound of breathing?" As he moved through his video, Bell used scripture to remind you and me how, not only is God's name holy, but even breathing every breath is holy.
All die and return to the dust... We are fragile...Life is fragile...Your life is but a breath, yet God's divine breath is breathed into each one of us! That means we are always "standing" on holy ground, and that is an issue sometimes when one uses God's name in inappropriate ways as if it was like our taking a single breath. We profane the name of God. We breathe out words that express an understanding that we are in the place of Divine Presence and we are forgetting that the name of God is sacred, and God breathes into us the "sacredness of life." It is as if we think no more about God than we do our own breaths we take daily.
Our passage of scripture from Isaiah this coming Sunday shows us the recognition of one who recognizes the sacredness of the moment he experiences. He understands what is behind the name of God. Even the words uttered by the Seraphs cause him to understand he is in a place of the Holy — Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.
Isaiah breathes in the holiness of God and exhales that which is unholy. In doing that, God blesses him and he is transformed. He understands what is in the name of Yahweh, what that means for him, and how he needs to respond.
Our life is but a breath, yet God's divine breath is breathed into each one of us!
Holy, holy, holy!