“What’s your name,’ Coraline asked the cat. ‘Look, I’m Coraline. Okay?’
‘Cats don’t have names,’ it said.
‘No?’ said Coraline.
‘No,’ said the cat. ‘Now you people have names. That’s because you don’t know who you are. We know who we are, so we don’t need names.”
When my brother was born, my parents could not make up their minds about what to call him. Finally, after one more question about his name, my father said. “Ezekiel, but we will call him Zeke.” My brother’s baptismal name was not Ezekiel, but somehow the name persisted. One neighbour inquired about the name because he heard it as, “Nozeke.” You can imagine why. In later years, my brother used “Zeke” as his stage name for various venues. When my children were born, they called him “Uncle Buggy” because one of them couldn’t say his real name. I like to think that now, in his maturity, he has finally been able to claim his true name.
As admission to a religious order, in baptismal ceremonies, a person is given a name. In earlier times, we were told that our baptismal name is the one by which we would be known at the pearly gate. I sometimes wonder if a lurking superstition kept me from changing my burdensome name.
In John 1:42, we read this passage: Andrew brought Simon to Jesus, who looked at him and said, “You are Simon son of John. You are to be called Cephas” (which is translated Peter). Simon — Shimon in Hebrew, Petros in Greek, and Cephas in Aramaic — all mean rock. Shimon would have been his formal name, perhaps at the synagogue; Petros is what he would later be called by the church; but, in this one intimate moment, and never again in the gospels, Jesus calls Peter, Cephas.
Brene Brown says that our spiritual and emotional health depends on knowing that at the core of our being we are worthy, enough in our essence. I like to think that as Jesus takes Peter’s hand, he is saying to him, “I see your essential self and it is good. Many things will happen that will cause you to doubt this, but I will always love you and call you by this true name.”
As the cat says to Coraline, we don’t know who we are. Maybe the discovery of that lies in letting ourselves be known to God at least and trusting that we are worthy because we are all chips off the original star of life, beauty and love. All of us carry this shard of holiness at our core, so all of us can allow ourselves to be known. No matter how much we disappoint ourselves or others, the shard itself is immutable. No matter what the world may call us, we have a true name and we will be known and trusted by the Holy One. Whenever Peter finds himself in a dilemma, it is when he has doubted his own worthiness, the way in which he was received and given responsibility by the one who knew him best and loved him into eternity.
Like the man in the ditch in the good samaritan story, like the woman at the well, like the many people Jesus healed, we need to be prepared to let ourselves be known, to let Jesus take our hand and remind us that we are worthy, that with him we share responsibility for compassion and peace making. With him we share in the promise of life in the Spirit forever.