CELEBRATION: the practice of naming

Theme for October

The intention of the themed year is to help Unitarian Universalists build a robust spiritual and ethical vocabulary. The themes are points of departure for religious liberals seeking to think, speak and act theologically, prophetically and prayerfully. The themes reclaim religious language, casting old terms in a new key to deepen spiritual grounding and sharpen moral reasoning. More at: wbuuc.org/themes or sign up for a circle at wbuuc.org/classes.

Download 2017.10 Celebration – the practice of naming Packet


  • What does it mean to be you, with the name you call yourself now, or with the name you’ve been called all these years? What’s in a name?
  • What have we lost our connection to over time that we should celebrate?
  • How does the practice of naming things out loud lead to greater freedom?
  • Why is it important to find things to celebrate in the midst of despair and doubt?


“Each day holds a surprise. But only if we expect it can we see, hear, or feel it when it comes to us. Let’s not be afraid to receive each day’s surprise, whether it comes to us as sorrow or as joy. It will open a new place in our hearts, a place where we can welcome new friends and celebrate more fully our shared humanity.”
– Henri Nouwen

“In our work and in our living, we must recognize that difference is a reason for celebration and growth, rather than a reason for destruction.”
– Audre Lorde

“If I’m gonna tell a real story, I’m gonna start with my name.”
– Kendirck Lamar



Won’t You Celebrate With Me
won’t you celebrate with me
what I have shaped into
a kind of life? I had no model
born in babylon
both nonwhite and woman
what did I see to be except myself?
i made it up
here on this bridge between
starshine and clay
my one hand holding tight
my other hand; come celebrate
with me that everyday
something has tried to kill me
and has failed.

– Lucille Clifton

Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks
I am the blossom pressed in a book,
found again after two hundred years. . .

I am the maker, the lover, and the keeper. . .

When the young girl who starves
sits down to a table
she will sit beside me. .. .

I am food on the prisoner’s plate.  . .
I am water rushing to the wellhead,
filling the pitcher until it spills. .. .

I am the patient gardener
of the dry and weedy garden. .

I am the stone step,
the latch, and the working hinge. .. .

I am the heart contracted by joy. . .

the longest hair, white
before the rest. .  .

I am there in the basket of fruit
presented to the widow. . .

I am the musk rose opening
unattended, the fern on the boggy summit.  . .

I am the one whose love
overcomes you, already with you
when you think to call my name. . . .

– Jane Kenyon



from an essay by Eve Ensler in This I Believe: The Personal Philosophies of Remarkable Men and Women

I believe in the power and mystery of naming things. Language has the capacity to transform our cells, rearrange our learned patterns of behavior and redirect our thinking. I believe in naming what’s right in front of us because that is often what is most invisible.

Think about the word vagina. I believe that by saying it 128 times each show, night after night, naming my shame, exorcising my secrets, revealing my longing, was how I came back into my self, into my body. By saying it often enough and loud enough in places where it was not supposed to be said, the saying of it became both political and mystical and gave birth to a worldwide movement to end violence against women. The public utterance of a banished word, which represented a buried, neglected, dishonored part of the body, was a door opening, an energy exploding, a story unraveling.

When I was finally able as an adult to sit with my mother and name the specific sexual and physical violence my father had perpetrated on me as a child, it was an impossible moment. It was the naming, the saying of what had actually happened in her presence that lifted my 20-year depression. By remaining silent, I had muted my experience, denied it, pushed it down. This had flattened my entire life. I believe it was this moment of naming that allowed both my mother and I to eventually face our deepest demons and deceptions and become free.

I think of women naming the atrocities committed against them by the Taliban in Afghanistan, or women telling of the systematic rapes during the Bosnian war, or just recently in Sri Lanka after the tsunami, women lining up in refugee camps to name their nightmares and losses and needs. I have traveled through this world and listened as woman after woman tells of being date raped or acid burned, genitally mutilated, beaten by her boyfriend or molested by her stepfather.

Of course the stories are incredibly painful. But I believe as each woman tells her story for the first time, she breaks the silence, and by doing so breaks her isolation, begins to melt her shame and guilt, making her experience real, lifting her pain.

I believe one person’s declaration sparks another and then another. Helen Caldicott naming the consequences of an escalating nuclear arms race, gave rise to an anti-nuclear movement. The brave soldier who came forward and named the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison was responsible for a sweeping investigation.

Naming things, breaking through taboos and denial is the most dangerous, terrifying and crucial work. This has to happen in spite of political climates or coercions, in spite of careers being won or lost, in spite of the fear of being criticized, outcast or disliked. I believe freedom begins with naming things. Humanity is preserved by it.


From Rabbi Sue Levi Elwell on Rosh Hashana Eve, 2015

Some years, we’re not ready for anything new. Yet we show up, in spite of ourselves, in spite of all the voices saying “there’s nothing here for me.”

Each of us is here, now, in spite of our ambivalence, our cynicism, our reticence, in spite of, or because of our depleted spirits, our aching souls, of our broken hearts, in spite of and because of our physical or psychic pain. We’re here, creating community, on this night, in this place, under this vaulted ceiling, under tonight’s sky. We’re here, gathered with other Jews, to somehow, in spite of everything, in spite of the many forces that mitigate against our being here in this moment. We’ve arrived.

We’ve arrived to welcome ourselves and one another into a New Year. We’ve come here to imagine together, to sing together, and to dream together. We’ve come here to celebrate the resilience of the human spirit. We’ve come to claim the possibility of renewal. We’re here to say YES, together, to the possibility of hope.

Today is Sunday, September 13, 2015. For millions of people, it’s just another day. A day that signals a new week. For us, today is the first of Tishrei, 5776. We claim this day as the first of our new year, and indeed, the very birthday of the world. We Jews, a people with a history of wandering, a nation with a legacy of loss, we defiantly name today as a day of hope, a day of sacred memory, Yom HaZikaron. We claim this day as Yom Teruah, the day on which we wake up ourselves and one another with the raw and raucous sounds of the shofar.



We Are Dancing Sarah’s Circle
lyrics by Carole Etzler
sung to the old spiritual tune Jacob’s Ladder

We are dancing Sarah’s circle…
Here we seek and find our story…
We will all do our own naming…
Every round a generation…
On and on the circle’s moving…


The Name Jar by Yangsook Choi


My Name is Yoon by Helen Recorvits

Two children’s books about finding the name that helps you celebrate who you are.