Friday, May 16, 2008

Naming Part IV

I'm working through Parker's Back by Flannery O'Connor for this class I'm going to teach online called Religion and Spirituality in Literature. The main character prefers to be called by his initials, O.E., or his last name, Parker. He recalls through narration that his full name is only listed on his navy files and his baptismal certificate. When his full name leaked out in the navy, he nearly beat someone to death. Here's someone who really doesn't like his name (who wouldn't if your name was a cheerleading chant "Ooeey, ooeey, oh. Ice, ice yeah" of Bring It On fame).

Anyway he tells his name to Sarah Ruth, the girl he would never like in a million years and who should really not like him, but they end up courting anyway and getting married. It's Obadiah Elihue. At which point, we pull out our trusty Accordance and Bibleworks software and do a quick search. Obadiah of course is a minor prophet, the minor-est of prophets really, with 21 verses. Obadiah, Jonah, Micah. Mostly has oracles against the Israel and the nations, but if you read Paul Raabe's Anchor Bible Commentary (over 300 pages), you can see there's a lot there. (PS Paul Raabe's doing the footnotes for the ESV study bible--wOOt LCMS!) Anyway Obadiah means "servant of God" roughly. Elihue is a bit more difficult. Well the meaning isn't--it's "God is he," but the reference is Elihu is a friend of Job's, the youngest one who thought it wasn't proper to speak until the older ones do. Elihu is the great-grandfather of Samuel. And a couple others. Is it meant to be anything more than obscure and therefore pious? Maybe not, but there might be something to be said for a guy who has been running away from what he's been called so long.

However, the part that really hit me was after his tattoo, when he's begging Sarah Ruth to let him back in. She asks who is it. And he says "Me. O.E." and she keeps asking and he keeps repeating. Finally, he says "Obadiah" and all the puzzle pieces start falling into place. "All at once he felt the light pouring through him, turning his spider web soul into a perfect arabesque of colors, a garden of trees and birds and beast." This perfect arabesque is what he's been trying to achieve through his tattoos. I really think the trees, birds, and beasts is a reference back to the perfection of the Garden of Eden, i.e. true and perfect union with God.

This naming, this acceptance of who you are called to be, sets things in place, makes things click, establishes one's worth, brings peace. And while some or even all of this applies in secular life, it becomes even more true when that name is "Child of God" or if you prefer to maintain uniqueness when your name is written in the Book of Life. I'm not sure if Parker gets there, but I have hope because the story ends with Sarah Ruth looking out at the man "who called himself Obadiah Elihue". I wish it was present tense or if we could read that as a past action that has effects into the future. I don't know, but it continues to highlight the impact of naming as it forms who we are.

Update: Misnumbered--this is part four...

1 comment:

hannah said...

Speaking of naming, you should read "The Namesake" by Jhumpa Lahiri. It deals with naming and your identity in relation to your name.

Maybe we've talked about that, but it's a good'un :)

Maybe we'll gmail chat soon, hey?