If someone were to ask me what my occupation is, I’d reply, “Preoccupation!” I spend most of my waking moments just thinking. Sometimes I wish I had a switch somewhere on my skull that I could flip whenever I needed my brain to stop its flow of thoughts through the neuron connections. Of course, it would have to be hidden underneath my thick black hair so that no one could come along and flip it off at an inconvenient time. My kids would have used it often in order to get my attention.
Some thinking times are more intense than others. Unfortunately I tend to have those wide-awake, brain-racing moments in the early morning hours when I really want to sleep later than the time the bedside clock is showing with its glowing digits. It’s been happening a lot lately. And it can get frustrating.
Sometimes I squeeze my eyes tightly hoping the thoughts will pop like a balloon and deflate to the ground. Sometimes I get up, scurry across the cold floors to my computer and either record or distract my brain activity. A few times I have sat in my chair by the bed and prayed because my thoughts were so disturbing. But most of the time I go with the flow and see where they take me.
One recent morning I awoke with the switch turned on and I decided to go with the flow. For no discernable reason, my brain traveled to China where I thought about my “naming” experience from last September.
In an earlier post, I tell the story of how my translator Fangfang named me. It is customary for the foreigner to be given a Chinese name, one that is carefully chosen and lovingly bestowed. Fangfang took over a week to find my name. She chose it after observing me and listening to my messages in order to capture my heart.
I thought about why this custom exists in China, at least among the Chinese Christians I met in Beijing. What did it do for me?
When Fangfang named me, I felt welcomed into her world. And because the name fit me perfectly, I felt known. Fangfang was my equal (or one could argue she was subordinate since my costs included hiring her as a translator) and when she named me, I felt a special bond to her, a heart connection that enhanced the roles we were engaging in as speaker and translator. We needed each other. We appreciated each other. We were a team.
And then it occurred to me that perhaps Eve felt the same way when she was created, presented to Adam and then named by him.
Adam and Eve were God’s first leadership team.
Genesis 1 records the creation of the universe culminating in the creation of man and woman. In Genesis 1:26-28 the three verses form an inclusio or what I call a “hamburger.” Verses 26 and 28 form the top and bottom “bun” which repeat one command from God: BOTH male and female are to rule over the natural world. BOTH are to steward God’s creation. Verse 27 is the “meat” that contains the theology to drive the commission: BOTH male and female image God together. It is in the relationship between male and female that the triune God is imaged most accurately .
Then Genesis 2 does a funny thing. It starts all over. This time we are told that the man was actually created first. However God’s intention for the man is made clear. He is not to be alone and he needs help. But the man also needs to go through an exercise of self-discovery.
I imagine the first man as a puzzle piece that needed to be relationally connected to another puzzle piece in order to complete the whole picture. And unless he went through the exercise and felt his aloneness deeply, perhaps God knew the man would disconnect from his partner and think he was sufficient to image God and rule well. Unfortunately, this happens in Genesis 3.
But until then, the exercise works. Through the act of observing the animals in detail and naming them all, the man realizes he is alone. Divinely anesthesized, he goes through surgery and wakes up to a new reality. His world is now to be shared with another human being, created by God to be his ezer, his equal, his strong helper and co-warrior.
When the man meets his partner he welcomes her into his world by naming her. She is woman and she is known by him—she is bone of his bones and flesh of his flesh. They are connected. They are a team.
For Adam, naming wasn’t about power or authority. It was an act of bonding, of solidarity, and of mutual dependence.
I think the Chinese understand the power of naming.
And I went back to sleep.