Thursday, January 28, 2010

A Thousand Names for God

Recently I read a book with the intriguing title, Theology Brewed in an African Pot. The author, Agbonkhanmeghee Orbator, a Jesuit priest from Nigeria, teaches theology in Kenya.

At the end of each chapter, Father Orbator has prayers that reflect the African way of relating to God. At the end of Chapter 2, “A New God Comes to Mbanta,” the author has an African Invocation of Divine Names. Here is only a sample: watcher of everything who is not surprised at anything; sun too bright for our gaze; mother of people; father of laughter; the one who sees both the inside and the outside.

Having prayed that lovely list of names for God, I found myself paying more attention to the psalms during our Liturgy of Hours as I looked for names of God from our Judeo-Christian culture. Those names, too, are many and varied: tower of strength; rock of my salvation; lover of justice; protector of our very bones; my stronghold and defense; one who is good and forgiving; gentle breeze; mothering God.

In the silence between the psalms, I began to make my own names for God: keeper of our sighs; holder of our tears; comforter of the broken hearted; bearer of our sadness; healer of our grief; one who delights in our joy; lover of our humanity; deep well of our trust. And so there are a thousand names for God.

Out of our own experience we can add to those names, as do millions of persons of every nation, race and religious background. In the terrible aftermath of the earthquake in Haiti, some would like to name God as Punisher. Some seem to see in every bad thing that happens to good people the wrath of God. But the God we name is above all the one named by Jesus Christ as Abba/Father/Mother, as a forgiving parent in the parable of the Prodigal Son; as a seeker of those who are lost; as the healer of all our ills.

It seems that the common theme in the African invocation of divine names, and in the Christian Scriptures as well, is that our God is the God of love, who desires only our good. I invite each of you who read this blog, to write your own list of names for God, to allow those names to sink deep into your heart and self-awareness, and to pass them on to your children’s children.

Image: "The I AM Sayings" from John 6-15. Illumination by Thomas Ingmire for The Saint John's Bible. For more information, visit .

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for naming God in our cultures... so broad is God's relationship with us!