I am in love with every Church
and any kind of Shrine
Because I know it is there
that people say the different names
of the one God.
As a seminarian doing my field education, I had the honor of preaching on the first Sunday of Advent (December 1) and the first Sunday of Christmas (December 29). The scripture readings appointed for the day led me to the theme of each sermon. At the beginning of Advent, we focused on Pilgrimage. At the beginning of the season of Christmas, we focused on Poetry: Names and Images of God.
The lines from the 14th century Persian poet Hafiz bring together those two themes. The poet speaks of a journey in search of the one God. In the readings for Christmas, we heard that the different names of the one God range from Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace to the Word, Light of the World to the Holy Child born in a stable. I pointed out the name Abba! Father! a name for God which Paul uses in his letter to the Galatians, and which Jesus himself uses when he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane in the Gospel of Mark. Abba is the Aramaic word for Daddy, sometimes translated Beloved. This name makes us look at God in a new way. Each name is a fragment of the eternal, vast, unknowable whole that is God. For Hafiz, and for me, the many names of the one God come not only from the language and traditions of one’s own familiar culture but also from the languages and traditions of other places and other faiths.
I’d like to recommend two books about the many names of God by authors I’ve encountered in my exploration of the Boston Theological Institute as part of my studies at Episcopal Divinity School:
Encountering God by Diana Eck. Diana Eck is a professor of comparative religion at Harvard Divinity School. Encountering God tells of her journey from her Methodist roots in Montana to her discovery of the many names of God in India. Professor Eck was involved in interfaith dialogue at the World Council of Churches for many years before founding and directing The Pluralism Project at Harvard. Encountering God is a classic. This book is both inspiring and enlightening, rich in ideas.
My Neighbor’s Faith: Stories of Interreligious Encounter, Growth and Transformation. Edited by Jennifer Peace, Or Rose and Gregory Mobley. I discovered this wonderful book at a panel presented by the Pluralism Project and the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard. The editors are professors of interfaith studies at Andover Newton Theological School and Hebrew College. The first-person stories are gathered into sections with titles like Encountering the Neighbor and Finding Fellow Travelers. The collection is a testimony to the Power of Stories and Loving Your Neighbor as Yourself.
What better way to pass a winter evening than with a good book? Either or both books would make wonderful choices. You can dip in and out of them, choosing a chapter or a story. You might be inspired to gather for a Winter Book Discussion. The stories in My Neighbor’s Faith might inspire a storytelling or writing group. We all have stories of encounters with God. We all have the long winter evenings ahead of us.