Don’t call us, we’ll call you

February 20, 2012

Neal’s Sacrament Meeting Talk: 1 January 2012

After I posted my recent talk in Church, Neal gave me permission to post his talk, despite the fact that it was not as carefully crafted as he wanted it to be (but that’s not really his fault since he had a sick baby and a sick wife in the days before).  But it was still wonderful, says this unbiased president of the Neal fan club.  I have to say, though, that probably more than mine, his was one that you had to hear in person to get the full effect.  There’s a great joke midway through, but it doesn’t really come through unless you are looking at his full beard and nearly shoulder-length hair.  And he actually cried — a lot — and he never cries so there was just a certain poignancy to all his words.

I want to explain a little about the journey that I took as my wife and I named Addison, partly because Elder Ballard opens his own talk with similar thoughts. He explains that for about six months, his mind had “repeatedly focused on the subject of the importance of a name” as several great-grandchildren had come into his family. He says that each “received a special name chosen by his or her parents, a name to be known by throughout his or her lifetime.” He explains that it is true in “every family, and it is also true among the religions of the world.” I want to extend that little introduction he gave into an analogy that has helped me to think about what it means to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and how my little family right now is a microcosm of the gospel family that God invites us to join.

When my wife and I were expecting Addison, we would sort of haphazardly flip through name books, maybe pick a page and run down a list. You know . . . Amberly, Ambrosia, Amelie, Americus, Anemone. It all seemed kinda silly and just whimsical at first. And you learn that people are actually naming their kid “Aurelius.” But I also learned that Lindsay actually recorded the names we’d talk about, and would bring them up periodically in later months.

“So,” she’d say, “do you still like the name Sophie?” I’d look at her blankly until Lindsay pointed her finger at the word on a notebook page dated two months prior. “No, not really,” I’d say, sort of perplexed at what must have been going through my head on September 13. Not that I had anything against the name Sophie, I just couldn’t recall any special connection to it. Then she’d say, looking at her notes, how about “Edith,” and how about “Olivia,” and how about “Emma?”

“They’re fine, I suppose, as names go.” And I’d peer at her page. “Did I really say those?”

The thing is, I hadn’t gotten serious yet. To me, Lindsay’s bump was still so far removed from a baby, it was hard for me to imagine just how real she would be in just a few short months. Lindsay was much more attuned to the little creature in her tummy . . . she kicked, she turned, she gave Lindsay indigestion and horrible rashes, and she kept Lindsay company during night, after long night, as Lindsay lay sleepless and hurting in bed. I still feel guilty that I wasn’t awake more during Lindsay’s suffering, to help alleviate her pains; but I know also that Addison and her mom grew close in those nights, and that Addison was a healing presence, one to combat the sometimes despairing darkness. I think back on it now, and I see a microcosm of the battle between good and evil in that experience; I see Joseph Smith’s struggle in the Sacred Grove, and the saving grace of God at the end of it.

But for a long time, I was either too busy or too oblivious to really contemplate the miracle that Addison would be, and in fact, already was. And frankly, I hadn’t thought very carefully about the power of names.

Near Christmastime, about a month and a half before Addison was born, the accumulation of my negligence spilled over the edge, and Lindsay told me, in no uncertain terms, to get in the game. She had her own anxieties about naming, and needed my help. For her, a particular obstacle was how to determine a name for someone who must have already had a name in some form, in the eternities. Do the names of this life supplant others? And is the name that we choose to give our daughter one that she’ll have forever, millions, and billions of years from now? If we name her wrong, will it be a curse?

It makes me think of a passage that probably all of us have read, whether two years ago or fifty:

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;

Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.

What’s Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,

Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part

Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,

Retain that dear perfection which he owes

Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,

And for that name which is no part of thee

Take all myself.

To Juliet, Romeo’s name is an “enemy,” and it makes her question the very value of names. She claims that without the title “Montague,” Romeo would still be the same person. She cries for him to “doff” his name, to shrug out of his family history, as though it were a label that could be easily removed.

But the play does not end with the two teenagers changing their names and running off to live happily, and anonymously, in Tahiti. No, if anything, Shakespeare’s play is an illustration of the power of names, and how a name can guide a person’s trajectory in life. In naming Addison, I wanted that power to be used for good.

I went to the Oxford English Dictionary, and began researching different principles that Lindsay and I had discussed, starting with the idea of “Grace.” I followed a string of articles, from “grace” to “salvation,” from “salvation” to “salve” (S-A-L-V-E), from “salve” to “salvia,” which is Latin for “to heal,” and which is also another name for the plant “sage,” which has been used medicinally for thousands of years as a treatment for nearly every ailment. I compiled a 40-page document tracing the etymology of each of these words back as far as history records them, and submitted them, with a suggestion for a name, for approval from my wife.

I gave this stack of pages to Lindsay and she said something like “you’ve got to be kidding me;” and banned me from any further use of the Oxford English Dictionary until my semester of school was over. But my suggestion passed her muster, and our little girl became “Addison Sage Call.” Our salve, our healer, our light in the dark, since as a medieval saying puts it: “Why should a man die, whilst sage grows in his garden?”

In naming her, and then again while giving her a baby blessing, I promised all of these things to Addison . . . not as something rigid or confining, but as an available blessing from her Father in Heaven, voiced by her earthly father, should she choose to accept and live up to it. You might also say that by naming my daughter, the healer, the soother, our Addison Sage, I set up an agreement not just between Addison and God, but between myself and God . . . that I know God has given me the opportunity to raise a child in order that I become a better person, and that if I can rise to the challenge, then she will be an agent of healing and grace for me, just as her name promises.

Elder Ballard describes taking Christ’s name upon you this way: that “you that have entered into the covenant with God” should strive to “be obedient unto the end of your lives.” It sounds daunting, perhaps even stringent, but I think God offers the name of Christ to us with the same affection and tenderness that I offered a name to Addison.

We always hear that being parents helps us to better understand God’s purpose and his joy in his creations. Well, my process for naming Addison was the best I could do to articulate my love for her, my hopes for her, and my desire to protect her with a reminder of what she is capable of. It was the best gift I could think to give her. Our Heavenly Father, I think, feels similarly, and gave His Son to us, both in body and as a name, as a way of showing his love, expressing his hope, and offering protection.

Before I got serious about naming Addison, none of the many names I encountered seemed to particularly matter. I just felt sort of avoidant and haphazard. In a similar way, I don’t always think of myself as a follower of Christ. It’s so easy to just call myself, and let myself be referred to, as a Mormon, an easy nickname, and one that carries no more special import, to me, than many other nicknames. What it seems to mean, both to non-members, and often to myself, is that I belong to a church where I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I dress conservatively, I’m encouraged to be neatly groomed and trimmed . . . to me the term “Mormon” evokes prohibitions, or perhaps historical events, like the Mormon Trail, or traditionally exploitive descriptions like “Hide your children, the Mormons are coming!” But to be a follower of Christ, to define myself as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ, that goes beyond what may turn out to be very temporal prohibitions and definitions. To be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ is, I think, to focus less on prohibitions, and more on blessings and opportunities. It is a focus on the Atonement. The name of Christ is a name that matters, because it is a gift from God.

Elder Ballard points this out in Mosiah, Chapter 5, when we are cautioned to “remember also, that this is the name that I said I should give unto you that never should be blotted out.” So, I shouldn’t hide Christ’s name under a bushel. Like a family name, Christ’s name is ours to keep, to never blot out, to use as a strength and a guide, a compass to remember who we are and what we can become. It need not come and go with each little good action or mistake we make. We are told that we should “remember to retain [His] name written always in our hearts” and Elder Ballard entreats us to think of Jesus Christ, not just as a convenient way to end prayers, but as the man who, as it says in Mosiah, “atoned for all who would repent of their sins,” and who “broke the bands of death and provided the resurrection from the dead.”

And I find some comfort in the fact that we can still take on Christ’s name, not because we are sinless or perfect, but because we seek to repent of our sins, and strive to become perfect. Or, as the sacrament prayer says, we witness a “willingness” to take upon us the name of Jesus Christ. That prayer describes the intersection of man and God — the intersection of imperfection and perfection, with the link being not absoluteness, but continued effort, and continued willingness.

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4 Comments »

  1. I SO wish I was in your guys’ ward. And I really enjoyed this talk/essay and the way Neal made the topic so personal. Bravo.

    Comment by Jen — February 20, 2012 @ 4:06 pm

  2. This is a little bit extraordinary, old scone.

    Comment by Aislin — February 20, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

  3. I hope I could be so thoughtful if I name my own child one day – thanks for sharing!

    Comment by LaurenHoya (@DrPepperChica) — February 21, 2012 @ 8:25 pm

  4. What a great talk. Thanks for talking Neal into sharing it with us 🙂 I’ve never thought of this analogy before, and I really like it because it makes the topic much easier to grasp.

    Comment by Kristin — February 22, 2012 @ 3:46 am


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