I’ve situated my bed just by a window on the ground floor level of my apartment building, one thatched screen away from the world at large. In the morning, I wake to the croaking strains of a day trying to get off the ground, like an old pilot spinning the propeller on his plane. It’s a little creaky but, by God, it does get going. I hear birds, of course. An old tomcat who’s taken up residence under the mailboxes. Sometimes a train. Often, the beginning of my neighbor’s commute. Her name is Megan and she parks her car just outside my window. She generally leaves before I get up, and I hear her keys jingle.
I hear all this, but I can’t see it well. I have dreadful vision, and take in the world blurry and smeared until I put my glasses on.
Strange to say, but my only concrete idea of Heaven is this: a place where I won’t need my glasses. Hopefully, that is the least of its charms, but it’s one I can, at least, grasp. The idea amuses me. Everyone else in Heaven, splashing in the river of life; soaring over the celestial mountains; bounding, block by block, down streets of gold. And I’m just grateful I don’t have to squint to read any of Heaven’s street signs.
The idea that God’s actual name is “Yahweh” is not entirely accurate. In truth, when old Moses wrote down the name he’d heard from the flaming deity of the burning bush, he wrote a jumble of consonants most nearly translated in English as “YHWH.” He didn’t include any vowels (Hebrews rarely did) so the original pronunciation is lost to us.
The Hebrews were skittish about writing down God’s name anyway, which is why oral tradition gives us scant clues about what Moses might have originally heard. They preferred “Adonai” or “Elohim.” Later, they took to adding vowels from those names into the “YHWH,” which is how we get “Yahweh.”
It’s not God’s name. But it’s about the best we’ve got.
When I was very young, I went to a family reunion in which I knew virtually no one. The crowd numbered near fifty, most of them old salt-of-the-earth types, most of them dead now. It’s a family of ruddy complexions, raven hair and Roman noses. At the urging of my Great Uncle Milt—a beekeeper who was always very kind to me—I tried oatmeal for the first time and quite liked it. He introduced me to a distant cousin I’d never met and left us to find something to talk about it.
“Is that your brother?” he asked, pointing over to another table. I told him it was.
“He looks a lot more like our family than you.” He said.
“Because his hair is dark,” I said.
“And because he doesn’t wear glasses,” this cousin said, laughing. “He’s not a nerd!”
So strange, the things that stick with us.
I would like to know who first dared to take a stab at naming God “Yahweh,” and why they thought it right to do so. His people had no shortage of common names for God, so referring to Him by a haphazard shot in the dark was hardly necessary.
Whatever the motivation, the name stuck, but not without some baggage. When Irish monks handwrote copies of the Bible, they would bathe themselves every time they wrote “Yahweh,” figuring God’s name was too holy a name to be written by an unclean person.
But, remember, “Yahweh” is not actually God’s name.
I write this in Colorado, hemmed in on all sides by the Rockies. The sun is nearly set, and the silhouette of mountains stands black against the blaze, looking like someone ripped a strip of sky off the horizon. Above, the stars pluck and scintillate.
It’s a curious thing, looking up. I was raised in the plains, which seem to roll on endlessly. I lived near the ocean for a time, which is bigger still. And out here, the mountains are our very definition of huge. But there is nothing in all creation so vast as just looking straight up from wherever you find yourself. Near as we can tell, the sky is truly infinite.
And when I look into the sky, it doesn’t matter if I have my glasses on or no. It all looks the same. Huge beyond compare.
The infinite is very forgiving of our flaws and best attempts.
The Hebrews with their imperfect nickname for the divine. Me with my imperfect eyesight for the infinite. And all of us, running around, stumbling and falling, making these imperfect advances towards God the Father.
And somehow, He is willing to meet us in those imperfections. In fact, when those imperfections meet God, something like holiness comes out of it.
My eyesight is bad, but it’s pristine weighed against the ancients in the middle east, whose corneas were often ruined by the whirring sand. The reason we draw our stars with points is because ancient artists in the East had eyes so scratched and dented that they saw stars as hazy, jagged blobs.
This means, of course, that the famed star that led the Magi to the Christ child was likely not the perfect compass it is generally depicted as. That was merely a trick of the wisemen’s wrecked eyeballs.
And yet. It got them to God.