on stations, stretchmarks & stories of naming

Stumbled across a few lovely things online in the past few days and thought I’d share.

First is a beautiful reflection on marriage. In the quiet calm between a bachelorette weekend and a best friend’s wedding in June, there’s been lots of talk of weddings lately. And I loved what this deacon had to say about weddings and marriage and how to make a real, earthy, persistent partnership last:

You can never tell, on the day when the vows are said and the petals are strewn and the rice is thrown, whether a marriage, any marriage, will last. Just ask Arnold and Maria—or, for that matter, almost anyone in your own family. I think we all discover, sooner or later, that this marriage thing is a lot harder than it looks. I’ll never forget the story of an older woman who once told a priest, “Father, when you’re walking down that aisle on your wedding day, you don’t see the Stations of the Cross.”

Beyond the sacramental grace involved—and grace and prayer do play a big part, I think—it’s a lot of talking, and a lot of listening, and a lot of patience, and a lot of persistence. It’s wanting this little partnership to hold together, in spite of all the temptations and opportunities to make it rupture. It’s realizing, day after day and year after year, that the strange and beautiful “something” that drew you to this other person still matters. It’s making the choice to stay married, every day, because you know in your gut and in your head that your life is infinitely better because this other person is a part of it.

That last line is my favorite. Talk about vocation.

Moving on to other callings I like to muse about here, I came across a great reflection from Wendy Wright quoted on the Why Stay Catholic? blog. She writes about the physical acts of carrying and birthing children: how mothers’ bodies are forever changed by this sacrifice and how God’s heart must be equally shaped by the space we each take up within it:

One is never the same. After each birth, the body readjusts. But things are never as they were before. Silver-webbed stretchmarks are only an outward sign. More hidden are the now elastic vessels of the vascular system, the pliancy of the muscle walls, the flat pouch of the once inhabited womb. Each child impresses upon waxen flesh the unique imprints of its life. Inscribes one’s own life with an image all of its own.

Often I have thought how true that is of the heart as well. Each child occupies its own space and in growing presses and pushes out the bounded contours of one’s heart. Each fashions a singular, ample habitation like no other. A habitation crowded with an unrepeatable lifetime of sorrow and joy. A habitation inscribed with a name. How could it be otherwise in the heart of God?

The author of the blog weaves Wright’s reflection into his experience of watching his own child prepare for the birth of twins this summer, a thoughtful ponder on the vocation of grandparenting. Faced with the awesome mystery of bringing new life into this world, he concludes in wonder that we are all “in the heart of God – a God who has stretchmarks, too.”

And finally, echoing the post I wrote on name stories, America magazine is running a piece this week by the same name (pun intended!) – a great read on the power of naming. The author moves from a delightful description of his children bestowing names on trees and animals on the family farm to a powerful statement of the place of names in the Christian life:

Names make belonging possible because they cut through the abstraction that leads to alienation. Names always embody particular knowledge that comes from being in relationship and from paying serious attention to the named…

Particular names and real relationships do not come without conflict, chaos and heartbreak. And naming can certainly serve darker human impulses toward scorn (“calling someone names”), ego inflation (“making a name” for oneself) and control. But what other way is there than through names to help bring about healing, to move beyond sound bites and shouting matches into authentic belonging?

Affection, tenderness, compassion and care rarely happen in the nameless, faceless abstract; this is the truth of the Incarnation. Christian tradition speaks not of a prime-mover deity far removed from our daily existence but of a living, loving, communal God—a mysterious God beyond all names, who nonetheless chose to take a name, Jesus, and so enter into an intimate relationship with the created order and all of its creatures and places. And this God, whose name we have been given to know, also knows ours: “I have called you by name: you are mine.”


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