Tuesday 10 April 2012

I Heard the Teacher Speak My Name

By John O’Brien, S.J.

She was sitting outside the cave, with nothing but a wretched ache in her heart. All she knew was that the one whom she loved was gone – the bitter taste of absence. Her love for him was not possessive or exclusive. Indeed, it was shared by many others. But that only seemed to increase the miracle that he was, and now the emptiness of the world without him. It is a blinding ache.

Which is why when she turns, and he is standing there, she doesn’t recognize him. Why am I weeping? Never mind, just tell me if you know where they have taken him. And then the unthinkable, the hope beyond all hope. “Mary,” he says. It is her own name, spoken by him – by him! – and her eyes are opened in an instant. He is back from the place of death, of not-being-here. “Mary,” he says simply, as if she should have known the loss would not be forever. Then she is daughter and sister and beloved all in one. She can feel the torrent of meaning contained in the speaking of her name: a gentle chiding, a reassurance, a calling, and a limitless loving that urges her back to life.

For the Jewish people a name is not a random signifier, but evokes the deeper qualities of personal identity. From the naming of the animals in Eden, to the new names God bestowed on those he called, a name reveals something of the essence of a being. God even names himself by his essence (which is his existence): “I AM who AM”. Her name in Hebrew is Miryam, the same name of Moses’ sister. It is thought to come from the Egyptian word mer or mar, to love, and the Hebrew word yam for Yahweh. Her name, then, would mean “one loving Yahweh” or “one beloved by Yahweh”. This is what the Teacher intends to say when he speaks her name right now.

Different meanings interpenetrate and nurture the radiance of a word. Mary's name may also derive from the Hebrew word mara, meaning “well-nourished”, which was synonymous with “beautiful”. The teacher would thus also be calling her “the beautiful or the perfect one.” Mary is all these things in his eyes, and in that moment, perhaps, she represents all of Israel, the whole Church, and every person created on God’s earth.

Such a simple but powerful word can only have another word, another name, as a response. “Rabbuni,” she responds. You have spoken my name and now I speak yours. This name is a little more formal, and yet that is what you are to us. You have taught us the way to truth and to life. For this we love you.

There is a bit of Mary inside all of us. We long to see him, whether we know it or not, and to spontaneously speak his name, “a name above all names”. When he comes, whether in prayer or on the final day, he will speak to us each by our own true name. God sees us as beautiful, as perfect, even in our brokenness. He is the teacher, master, beloved and friend. He is Jesus Christ, visible face of the Father, and victorious over death. Let his holy name be spoken in grateful and reverent praise!

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