Every writer hopes to find words that resonate in other lives.

And every reader chooses favorite writers, partly based on their proven power to penetrate the veil of death through language.

Madeleine L’Engle plays such a role in my life. Even though she died in 2007, she lives in my memory through her visits to Goshen College and, even more, through her books.

Be a Namer: An Admonition

Be a Namer: An Admonition

I encountered Madeleine L’Engle many times over the course of her 88 years. The first time, I was a young teacher who tried to read A Wrinkle in Time (Time Quintet). One of my tenth-grade students loved the book. I could not connect with it. I assumed that I just didn’t like fantasy, the genre, since the book had won a Newbery Award and was already a classic.

After fours years of graduate school and after becoming a mother, I tried the book again. This time I loved it. And as my son Anthony grew older, I placed this book and the others in the series on my list of books to read to him at night.

Mother and son taking in the view above Port au Prince

Mother and son taking in the view above Port au Prince

One night, as I was reading to Anthony from A Wind in the Door (second in the Time Quintet), I came across an exchange between Meg, the teenage heroine of the book, and an angel named Progo.

Progo is explaining why he is calling out the names of the stars. He knows they need to be named in order for peace to exist on earth.

The enemy of peace is a force called the Ecthroi, which Progo interprets to Meg this way:

“I think your mythology would call them fallen angels. War and hate are their business, and one of their chief weapons is un-Naming – making people not know who they are. If someone knows who he is, really knows, then he doesn’t need to hate. That’s why we still need Namers, because there are places throughout the universe like your planet Earth. When everyone is really and truly Named, then the Echthroi will be vanquished.”

As I read these words to Anthony, tears began sliding down my cheeks. My own deepest desires surged through me. I wanted him to know his name. Anthony. A family name, yes. But also the name of the desert father St. Anthony, a Christian mystic and first monastic.

"Piero di Cosimo 025" by Piero di Cosimo - The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei. DVD-ROM, 2002. ISBN3936122202. Distributed by DIRECTMEDIA Publishing GmbH.. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piero_di_Cosimo_025.jpg#mediaviewer/File:Piero_di_Cosimo_025.jpg

From the Visitation of St. Nicholas and St. Anthony by Piero di Cosimo http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Piero_di_Cosimo_025.jpg

St. Anthony was a namer.

When Madeleine L’Engle came to Goshen College and signed Anthony’s copy of The Wind and the Door, she reached me, too, with her message of “Be a Namer.”

I took on the role of Namer as mother and Namer as teacher.

As a result, I paid attention to my own literal name in Blush: A Mennonite Girl Meets a Glittering World and have talked with my children, husband, students, colleagues, and friends about names and their importance in our lives.

I have also tried to reach the depth of metaphor Madeleine L’Engle discovered. My deepest desire is to contribute to peace by helping others find their names — their callings and purpose in life. In so doing, I have found my own.

Anthony has become a namer too. He has found his own way to follow Madeleine L’Engle’s advice. I think she would approve.

Anthony reads to Julia

Anthony reads to Julia

Does this idea of being a namer resonate with you? Have words from an author entered deeply into your own life and vocation? How?

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