The week before last, after a long search for a suitable craftsperson, a significant piece of work on the outside of the St. James’ building came to fruition: a sign-writer painted the name of the church above the main doors, and the designation of the memorial garden on the south wall below the Lady Chapel windows. I wonder how many of us noticed this last Sunday!
Reflecting on this, two thoughts came to mind. First, we sometimes only see what we expect to see. We become so familiar with how things are, how we expect things to appear, that we do not immediately take note of change, of something new. I recall a reverse example, as it were: some years ago when I attended a college-reunion a friend and I were looking at college photographs of our era. To my consternation at first I could not see myself in any of the pictures until my friend pointed out that I did not wear a beard at that time. (He added, unnecessarily I thought, “And you were beautiful then!”) This reminds me of the need for recollection, to attend to my surroundings and to people and situations I encounter, rather than as so often to rely on my preconceptions and assumptions. It reminds me too when reading the bible, for example, to be attentive, to be on the alert for a new insight, a new engagement with what may be a very familiar passage.
Secondly, seeing the church’s name over the door reinforced for me the significance of naming, of owning our own identity and of our identity being acknowledged, open to recognition by others. To know or to be known by name enables relationship rather than casual passing by.
John 20.15,16 portrays a powerful example of this: Mary Magdalen recognizes the risen Jesus only when he calls her by her name. “Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? For whom you are looking?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary!’ She turned and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbouni!’ (which means Teacher).” (NRSV). And in Isaiah 43.1 the prophet has the Lord say, “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” (NRSV again)
May the Lord, who calls us, each one, by name, bless us and keep us.