Mum and Dad had a few years to plan how they would name us. They had some trouble having children, and it was seven years before I came along. They were so overjoyed at my arrival that mum referred to me as her Gold-plated baby. Dad would quip that he wanted his money back.
Mum informed Dad that he could have right of veto on any of the names she chose for her children, as long as he came up with something better. Thank the good Lord none of his, um, creative nicknames ever appeared on our birth certificates. My cousins before me ended up with some interesting ones: Charlie Pickles, Dingo, Spider, Titty, Fang and Gott. (Real names: Jane, Damien, Kate, Helen, Bernadette and Genevieve).
Mum’s approach to names was a little bit more shall-we-say religious. Yesterday was the feast of the annunciation and I got a lovely text wishing me happy feast day. My full name, as some of you would know is Elisabeth Marie Assunta. Mum tells me that the ‘S’ in Elisabeth is for special, and of course I readily believe her, and it makes me feel a little bit better about the fact that no-one can spell it.
But it got me thinking about names and being true to ourselves, calling people by their true names and the idea of how we grow into our names and our journeys.
I’m just about to start an online writing course called ‘Being in love with your life’, inspired by one of my spirit animals Mev Puleo. Mev was an American photojournalist and liberation theologian who tragically died of cancer at age 32, having achieved an extraordinary amount in her short life. The course convener is her husband Mark. (If you are interested, you can still check it out here, you might be able to sneak in. It’s $100 for eight weeks.)
What I love about the Book of Mev (on which the course will be based) was the way in which stories of Mev were interwoven with anecdotes about travels in El Salvador and Brazil, conversations with popes and bishops and the urban poor, and the joy of falling deeply in love. It seems that Mev was so truly herself, so profoundly convinced of her unique vocation(s) and calling. Despite pressures to conform to family expectations, church expectations, worldly expectations, she was ever more righteous and real and self confident in her pilgrimage on earth.
She had wondered out loud whether is was too indulgent to study more theology when there were so many without food to eat. It was in interviewing Jon Sobrino in the late 1980s that she was told ‘we don’t just need liberation theologians, we need liberation journalists, photographers, architects.’
I always used to think that I needed teaching or nursing or medicine in order to be a missionary or volunteer overseas. Recently when interviewing Gemma Sisia, the founder of the School of St Jude in Tanzania, she was saying how important media missionaries are, people who will tell the story. I felt that too when I was working overseas that while I enjoyed teaching English very much, that communications technologies, art and music were far more powerful ways for me to live out a missionary calling. Those were the areas where I could return to myself and be authentic, and help others to develop their own voice and tell their stories.
One of my favourite books by spiritual writer Fr James Martin SJ is Becoming who you are, where he uses the stories of holy people, some saints, some un-canonised, as varied as Thomas Merton, Therese of Lisieux, Dorothy Day. In it, he endorses the idea that we will be most holy, indeed, most whole, when we are true to ourselves. As he usually does, Martin sprinkles tales of his own journey throughout, sharing about how his business training before entering the Society of Jesus proved extremely useful in helping refugees establish cooperatives in Nairobi, Kenya.
Anyway. As usual, I digress. Yesterday, I found myself in silver socks from my favourite store, pointy black flat shoes with a gold strap and decked out in Vinnies and Salvos gear. And I felt like myself. So above is a photo of my feet.
‘Be who you were created to be, and you will set the world on fire.’ – Catherine of Siena.
‘Do not wish to be anything but who you are’ – Francis de Sales.