Several weeks ago, as I was listening to local news on the radio in my car, a report came on about an annual service held in Chicago to remember all the deceased indigent persons in the city and county who were buried—alone and sometimes unnamed—by the Cook County Medical Examiner’s office. I’d heard of this service at Chicago’s First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, and I knew there were similar services held in other places. This year, for some reason, the report really caught my attention. Here’s why:
During the report, a woman who volunteers with a local homeless shelter spoke about the importance of that annual service, in particular the part of the service where the names of all the indigent people were read aloud. She spoke of how one homeless man told her how difficult and demeaning it was that people who would help him out on the streets wouldn’t ask him his name, or share their names with him. He had often seen people stop strangers walking their dogs to ask the dogs’ names, but they wouldn’t ask his name when they bought him something to eat, paid for his public transportation, or given him direct monetary aid.
I thought of the times I had helped out people on the street, usually buying them food or paying for their public transportation. Two days before I heard the report on the radio, I’d bought an egg salad sandwich and something to drink for a man outside the grocery store—and hadn’t asked his name, nor told him mine. I flashed back to the summer when I subbed as organist for six weeks in downtown Chicago, and regularly bought a fast food breakfast for a half dozen or so homeless people between Masses; I never learned their names. I struggled to remember the name of a single homeless person I’d tended when I volunteered for a foot care ministry…and drew a blank. Easily, I called to mind the names of several of my fellow volunteers, the nice, clean, and safe people who were like me.
The naming aspect of the news report and the service for the indigent deceased hit home during Trinity Sunday’s liturgies. There were all sorts of manifestations of the contentious debate over Trinitarian naming of the past decades: the privileged ritual names of Father/Son/Holy Spirit; the “job description” Trinity of Creator/Redeemer/Sanctifier; the more poetic rendering of Lover/Beloved/Love, and so on.
It all got me to wondering how much more deeply we could enter into the Divine Mystery if we brought ourselves to learn the names of God’s least and lowly. In our tradition, which values naming so highly when we are “Christ-ened,” why not also value the names of those valued by the Son of Man in Matthew 25: the naked, the homeless, the hungry, the prisoner—all those at the margins of our daily incarnated life—all those valued so highly by the Son of Man that he identified himself with them? They form, it seems to me, their own Litany of the Saints.
When we bind unto ourselves the strong name of the Trinity, let us likewise bind unto ourselves the names, the faces, the bodies, the Christ made incarnate again through the Spirit as we live the Gospel in service to all.