Last night I sat by my boys’ bedside and after tucking them in I said, “Let’s start something new and special called, “God Talk.” I told them I spend much of my life thinking, studying and learning about God, and I would love to ponder questions they have about God, life and the mysteries of the universe sometimes before bed.
The boys were wondering if they would be the same people in Heaven. After reassuring them that they would remain the same Peter and Isaak, only the new and improved versions with new abilities and no longer held back by sin’s stain, Isaak asked, “Can I have a new name in Heaven?”
Wow. Putting aside the question of whether or not he likes his given name here and now (gulp!), the boys proceeded to have a little quarrel (surprise, surprise). Peter insists on keeping his name but Isaak wants a new name in Heaven. Seeking a compromise, I suggested that while remaining Peter and Isaak, maybe they’ll be given a special new name as well by God – a new middle or nickname? Then I read to them Revelation 3:12:
“All who are victorious will become pillars in the Temple of my God, and they will never have to leave it. And I will write on them the name of my God, and they will be citizens in the city of my God—the new Jerusalem that comes down from heaven from my God. And I will also write on them my new name.”
I am not sure exactly the meaning of this scripture, but I do know the giving of names in the Hebraic-Jewish culture of the Bible is a significant act. At the very least, we “stamp” a name onto the raw materials of a newborn infant, a name calling forth all their life the qualities and character we hope they will someday realize in their being. The outer label will, we hope, someday become the inner essence.
This leads me today to the deeper question of what the goal of our Christian faith really is.
Much of the Christian tradition we have inherited tends to be more transactional than transformational. The goal of transactional religion is getting a person from ‘here’ to ‘there’, from one status to another: out of Hell and into Heaven; out of their sin and into God’s grace; out of the damned masses and into the redeemed elect; and so on. The danger here is that we can end up focusing so much on the mechanisms that move the person from ‘here’ to ‘there’ — e.g., sacraments, evangelistic proclamation, profession of faith, atonement theories, etc. — that we neglect to concern ourselves with the actual transformation of souls. We must move beyond the following sentiments:
I prayed the prayer when I was six, and so I’m “in.”
I attend church and give my tithe, so I’m a Christian.
I can recite the Apostles Creed and went through Confirmation, so I “know God.”
I was baptized and receive the sacraments, so my sin is dealt with.
Are we permeable material for the Spirit to leak into our lives and mold us into the new creations we are declared to be? Are we soft clay in the hands of the Potter with full permission for him to press the stamp of the Son onto our deepest self?
I want for my children (and myself!) far more than a transactional faith. I desire for them far more than a one-time profession of faith; or the momentary emotional buzz of baptism; or the false security that comes by playing the religious games and going through the prescribed rituals, or knowing the Bible backwards and forwards. Jesus’ words sting and warn: “You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life” (John 5:39). Transformation comes from an ongoing encounter with the Word Incarnate, not mere adherence to or knowledge of the words of Scripture.
My prayer for my children, and my own chastened self these days, is to desire that elusive and harder wrought inner transformation of the soul. I’m inviting our faith community to join me on what I’m calling a “Pilgrimage of the Soul”. One of my guides for the journey is Thomas Merton who gives poignant language to a Christian life beyond the merely transactional, a faith that invites the divine stamp to press down, painful though it is at times, onto our souls as we discover our new identity, or True Self, receive our New Name, and gradually become the reality toward which that name calls.
What will that new name be? If I were to hedge my bets, I think we will all be called Beloved.
Now feast on Merton’s words below and make them your prayer today:
“SOULS are like wax waiting for a seal. By themselves they have no special identity. Their destiny is to be softened and prepared in this life, by God’s will, to receive, at their death, the seal of their own degree of likeness to God in Christ. And this is what it means, among other things, to be judged by Christ. The wax that has melted in God’s will can easily receive the stamp of its identity, the truth of what it was meant to be. But the wax that is hard and dry and brittle and without love will not take the seal: for the hard seal, descending upon it, grinds it to powder. Therefore if you spend your life trying to escape from the heat of the fire that is meant to soften and prepare you to become your true self, and if you try to keep your substance from melting in the fire—as if your true identity were to be hard wax—the seal will fall upon you at last and crush you. You will not be able to take your own true name and countenance, and you will be destroyed by the event that was meant to be your fulfillment.”