Many people I admire are poetry-lovers; I feel certain there is something to this. Already, I appreciate well-honed language and acknowledge the superior-to-the-sword sharpness that text can wield. However, apart from limericks, Silverstein, and Seuss, I confess to being a poetry failure. I struggle to enter and enjoy it as I wish I could.
But Daniel Ladinsky may be changing that.
An acclaimed expert on mystical poetry of the ages, Ladinsky spends many of his words translating these provocative pieces or creating his own, based upon the classic works he discovers. His book “Love Poems from God” is one of the only poetry books I own, once I get past Green Eggs and Ham and Mother Goose.
Over a year ago, he blogged a typical-for-him piece titled, “Maybe the Best Lay in Town is a Poem”, a title that strikes me as a hard-to-ignore invitation into poetry-land! Below is one of his offerings.
Would you come if someone called you
by the wrong name?
I wept, because for years He did not enter my arms;
then one night I was told a secret:
Perhaps the name you call God is not really His,
maybe it is just an alias.
I thought about this, and came up with a pet name
for my Beloved I never mention to others.
All I can say is–it works.
Before dismissing Ladinsky’s poem as a non-sensical invitation to creating names for the Creator, consider a few portions of Scripture:
Remember that when Moses asked for ID, God’s choice of revelation revolved around the name of Yahweh. The strictest Jews still utilize the vowel-less and un-pronounceable YHWH to speak of the Divine One. In Moses’ burning-bush encounter, the emphasis hangs on the name’s meaning: “I am who I am” or “I will be who I will be” or “I am all that I am, and you can’t conduct it or control it”. (That last one is my loose translation.)
Beyond Moses, you have Jesus adding the consistent call to address the God of the vowel-less name as Abba — Daddy, the One your trust more than any other because His perfect love is evident in every dealing. Most of us (even those of us with great fathers) need to bring our imaginations into that equation, to redeem “Daddy” as a name void of disappointment or worse.
Then toss in Paul and his urging to trust the Spirit’s translation skills when we pray. Paul would argue that every one of possesses desires, urges, and longings that reside beyond language. Carry inexpressible cargo might stress some; Paul says, “Sweat not! Just groan.”
When I swirl together these experiences and teachings of Moses, Jesus, and Paul, I find myself arriving somewhere near to Daniel Ladinsky, with an awareness that my names for God often limit, more than free, my interactions with Him.
[As as example: We were recently discussing God with our kids, pointing out that “Daddy” is a name He loves for us to use because He is like the father of everyone. Our five-year-old accepted that easily enough but asked, “Why isn’t there a special Mom too?” So we described the body-less God whose qualities are beyond “boy or girl”. At age five, she’s already noting the linguistic limitations of even a small word like “Him”, in speaking of the Holy One.]
So for today, get on-board with Ladinsky. Recognize some of the names you use as nicknames at best, and draw close to God as the One who will be exactly Who He will be. Groan if you need to, and whisper confidently, even affectionately, to the One who is nearer to you than your breath.
With Ladinsky, you just might agree: It works!