Reflections on the name of God, written as YHWH, but replaced by ‘Adonai’ in spoken version of the Jewish prayer called the Shema, and other names for the Divine.

How I long to see
among dawn flowers,
the face of God.
― Basho


God’s name is not known; it is wondered at. — Gregory of Nyssa

He is who He was, and He is also who He will be because the great I Am never steps out of the present tense. ― Tony Evans

I am a passionate seeker after truth which is but another name for God. — Gandhi

You may call God love, you may call God goodness. But the best name for God is compassion. — Meister Eckhart Tolle

He loves each one of us like there is only one of us to love (when God whisper your name) — Max Lucado

Stand up straight and realize who you are, that you tower over your circumstances. You are a child of God. Stand up straight. — Maya Angelou

SONGS about NAMES of GOD

The incarnate Word is with us,
is still speaking, is present
always, yet leaves no sign
but everything that is.
— Wendell Berry


The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things,
I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
frog voice; now,
he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever …
— Mary Oliver


When love awakens in your life, in the night of your heart, it is like the dawn breaking within you. Where before there was anonymity, now there is intimacy; where before there was fear, now there is courage; where before in your life there was awkwardness, now there is a rhythm of grace and gracefulness; where before you used to be jagged, now you are elegant and in rhythm with your self. When love awakens in your life, it is like a rebirth, a new beginning. — John O’Donohue


Just as a person is in relation to you a father
and in relation to another either son or brother —
So the names of God in their number have relations:
He is from the viewpoint of the infidel the Tyrant (qaher);
from our viewpoint, the Merciful.
— Rumi, Divan e-Kebir, tr. Annemarie Schimmel


With us, the name of everything is its outward appearance;
with the Creator, the name of each thing is its inward reality.
In the eye of Moses, the name of his rod was “staff”;
in the eye of the Creator, its name was “dragon.”
In brief, that which we are in the end
is our real name with God.
— Rumi, Mathnawi I:1239-40, 1244


Whether you believe in God or not does not matter so much, whether you believe in Buddha or not does not matter so much; as a Buddhist, whether you believe in reincarnation or not does not matter so much. You must lead a good life. And a good life does not mean just good food, good clothes, good shelter. These are not sufficient. A good motivation is what is needed: compassion, without dogmatism, without complicated philosophy; just understanding that others are human brothers and sisters and respecting their rights and human dignity. — Dalai Lama XIV

RESOURCES about the name of God:


YHWH: The Tetragrammaton

The Tetragrammaton, referred to in rabbinic literature as HaShem (The Name) or Shem Hameforash (The Special Name), is the word used to refer to the four-letter word, yud-hey-vav-hey (יהוה), that is the name for God used in the Hebrew Bible. The name, which some people pronounce as Yahweh and others (mostly Christians) as Jehovah, appears 5,410 times in the Bible (1,419 of those in the Torah). — My jewish Learning (full article: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-tetragrammaton/)

The letter from the Holy See explains that the Divine Name as revealed in the Old Testament, יהוה (YHWH), has been held as unpronounceable as an expression of reverence for the greatness of God. The directive notes that “in recent years the practice has crept in pronouncing the God of Israel’s proper name,” known as the holy or divine tetragrammaton, written with four consonants, YHWH, in the Hebrew alphabet. In order to vocalize it, it is necessary to introduce vowels that alter the written and spoken forms of the name (i.e. “Yahweh” or “Jehovah”). Citing theological and philological reasons, and in keeping with tradition, the letter reminds the bishops that “from the beginning… the sacred tetragrammaton was never pronounced in the Christian context nor translated into any languages into which the Bible was translated.” Historically the Divine Name was rendered in Hebrew as Adonai, in Greek as Kyrios, and in Latin as Dominus. — Letter to Bishops Conferences (link to full resource)

The most common name of God in the Hebrew Bible is the Tetragrammaton, יהוה, that is usually transcribed as YHWH. Hebrew script is an abjad, so that the letters in the name are normally consonants, usually expanded as Yahweh in English. Modern Jewish culture judges it forbidden to pronounce this name. In prayers it is replaced by the word Adonai (“The Lord”), and in discussion by HaShem (“The Name”). — wikipedia

GOD’S NAME for US

The great struggle of the Christian life is to take God’s name for us, to believe we are beloved and to believe that is enough. Rachel Held Evans

And the Word that had most recently come from the mouth of God was, “This is my beloved in whom I am well pleased.” Identity. It’s always God’s first move. Before we do anything wrong and before we do anything right, God has named and claimed us as God’s own. But almost immediately, other things try to tell us who we are and to whom we belong: capitalism, the weight-loss industrial complex, our parents, kids at school—they all have a go at telling us who we are. But only God can do that. Everything else is temptation. — Nadia Bolz-Weber

The love of God is not generic. God looks with love upon every man and woman, calling them by name. — Pope Francis

I believed that there was a God because I was told it by my grandmother and later by other adults. But when I found that I knew not only that there was God but that I was a child of God, when I understood that, when I comprehended that, more than that, when I internalized that, ingested that, I became courageous. — Maya Angelou

God calls each and every star by name. It’s not likely He has forgotten yours. — Louie Giglio

USING OTHER WORDS for the UNPRONOUNCEABLE NAME of GOD

Historically the Divine Name was rendered in Hebrew as Adonai, in Greek as Kyrios, and in Latin as Dominus. — Letter to Bishops Conferencs (link to full resource)

Hashem is a Hebrew term for God. Literally, it means “the name.” In the Bible the Hebrew word for God is made up of four vowels, and according to tradition it was only pronounced on Yom Kippur by the High Priest. Saying God’s name was considered a very serious and powerful thing, so much so that one of the Ten Commandments prohibits us from saying God’s name in vain. As a result, people have come up with various substitutions. When reading Torah, we generally substitute the word Adonai for the four letter un-pronounceable name of God. Outside of reading and praying, God is often referred to as Hashem, a creative way of not saying God’s name. If you’re a Harry Potter fan, it’s kind of the opposite of how Voldemort was referred to as “He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named.” — My Jewish Learning (full article: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hashem/)

There are many other names for God in Jewish tradition, including Adoshem, Yah, Yahweh, HaKadosh Baruch Hu, El Shaddai, Av Harahamim, and Harahaman. — My Jewish Learning (full article: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/hashem/)

Instead, a variety of pseudonyms are used, such as Adonai (Lord), Elohim (God) and HaShem (The Name). — My jewish Learning (full article: https://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/the-tetragrammaton/)
SOME WAYS of PRAYING the NAMES of GOD

See the songs above for some approaches to the 99 names and 72 names of God as acts of prayer.

Additional resources:
• Praying the names of God by the Navigators:
https://www.navigators.org/resource/praying-names-attributes-god
• Praying the names of God with Tony Evans: http://tonyevans.org/praying-and-pronouncing-the-names-of-god/ • Praying the names of God with Ann Spangler: https://www.crosswalk.com/devotionals/prayingnamesgod/
• 99 Names of God: https://marytn.medium.com/the-most-beautiful-names-of-god-99-names-of-allah-b898f624cada
• 72 Names of God: https://www.chabad.org/kabbalah/article_cdo/aid/1388270/jewish/72-Names-of-G-d.htm

REFLECTIONS on NAMES of GOD

Watches have watch makers, paintings have painters, designs have designers, and creation has a creator. ― Tony Evans

Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children. — William Makepeace Thackeray

The name of this infinite and inexhaustible depth and ground of all being is God. — Paul Tillich

God is the same, even though He has a thousand names; it is up to us to select a name for Him. — Paulo Coelho

There is no greater spellbinder of peace than the name of God. — GandhiIt has been said that people never do evil with more enthusiasm than when they do it in the name of God.  — Tony Campolo

God is a name we give to love. — Nancy Pickard

I guess if you’re doing God’s work, whatever you do is in His name. — Edward Zigler Christians have abused, oppressed, enslaved, insulted, tormented, tortured, and killed people in the name of God for centuries, on the basis of a thelogically defensible reading of the Bible. — Sam Harris

The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. May not call God the same name you call God – if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody. That’s what I think. — Maya Angelou

We could not become like God, so God became like us. God showed us how to heal instead of kill, how to mend instead of destroy, how to love instead of hate, how to live instead of long for more. When we nailed God to a tree, God forgave. And when we buried God in the ground, Got got up. — Rachel Held Evans
Lo, for I to myself am unknown, now in God’s name what must I do? — Rumi

When you bow deeply to the universe, it bows back; when you call out the name of God, it echoes inside you. — Morihei Ueshiba

The God we worship writes his name upon our faces. — Roger Babson

We could call order by the name of God, but it would be an impersonal God. There’s not much personal about the laws of physics. — Stephen Hawking

Many are the names of God and infinite the forms through which He may be approached. —Ramakrishna

Somebody said once or wrote, once: ‘We’re all of us children in a vast kindergarten trying to spell God’s name with the wrong alphabet blocks! — Tennessee Williams

We, like the people of Israel, would like to think we get to name God. By naming God, we hope to get the kind of god we need; that is, a god after our own likeness. — Stanley Hauerwas

I need a God who is bigger and more nimble and mysterious than what I could understand and contrive. Otherwise it can feel like I am worshipping nothing more than my own ability to understand the divine. ― Nadia Bolz-Weber

God wrote a book on suffering, and its name is Jesus. — Joni Eareckson Tada

Make your god transparent to the transcendent, and it doesn’t matter what his name is. — Joseph Campbell

The love of God is not something vague or generic; the love of God has a name and a face: Jesus Christ. — Pope Francis

Meditations on figs and vines in scripture: themes from Taste & See that show up as images of peace, abundance, mercy, hope and justice.

We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond. — Gwendolyn Brooks

The result will be fruit that blesses the world and reveals us as … a community of love. Together, we are so much more powerful than any of us can be on our own. However, this “together” isn’t out there, on our own even as a community, because our life force flows from the vine with which we are one. — Kathryn Matthews

Joy and happiness, by definition, are the … fruits of wholesome actions. — Dalai Lama

Questions to consider when thinking about the use of vines and figs as images and references in scripture:

  • ‘Under vines and fig trees’ is a frequent image embodying peace and abundance, as a blessing from God, in Hebrew scriptures. (Ex: Deuteronomy 8:7-10 and 1 Maccabees 14:11-12). What landscape, site, or place symbolizes spiritual peace and wellbeing to you? Is it wild or cultivated? What would you do (or not do) there? How would it taste, smell and sound? What would it look like? How would it feel to your touch? Would you be alone or with other people? What gifts would such a site or place offer to you?
  • Vines and fig trees can be long-lived, and also imply interdependence (see John 15: 1-17). They may require patience and time and skill to cultivate (see Luke 13: 6-9). In what ways do you need to adopt a long-term, even multi-generational, and interconnected view of life and the world? In what ways do you already live out such a spiritual practice?
  • Gardening, herding, tending vineyards and orchards, fishing and farming have all been used as a Biblical metaphors for caring for self, community and world. What contemporary metaphor or story would you use to describe the role of caring for yourself, other people and/or the environment?
  • Which spiritual fruit (list from Galatians 5) — love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control — do you believe you have received? Which ones do you wish you had? Which ones are you trying to grow? What isn’t on this list of spiritual fruits, that you would add?

Time and the Garden (excerpt) — Yvor Winters
The spring has darkened with activity.
The future gathers in vine, bush, and tree:
Persimmon, walnut, loquat, fig, and grape,
Degrees and kinds of color, taste, and shape.
These will advance in their due series, space
The season like a tranquil dwelling-place.
And yet excitement swells me, vein by vein:
I long to crowd the little garden, gain
Its sweetness in my hand and crush it small
And taste it in a moment, time and all!
These trees, whose slow growth measures off my years …


The Worm’s Waking  — Rumi
      This is how a human being can change:
   there’s a worm addicted to eating grape leaves.
Suddenly he wakes up, call it grace, whatever,
something wakes him, and he’s no longer a worm.
He’s the entire vineyard, and the orchard too, the fruit, the trunks,
    a growing wisdom and joy that doesn’t need to devour.


What The Figtree Said (excerpt)— Denise Levertov
… I was at hand,
a metaphor for their failure to bring forth
what is within them (as figs
were not within me). They who had walked
in His sunlight presence,
they could have ripened,
could have perceived His thirst and hunger,
His innocent appetite;
they could have offered
human fruits—compassion, comprehension—
without being asked,
without being told of need.
My absent fruit
stood for their barren hearts. He cursed
not me, not them, but
(ears that hear not, eyes that see not)
their dullness, that withholds
gifts unimagined.

Of Figs & Vines

Nothing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig. I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen. — Epictetus

We ought to do good to others as simply as a horse runs, or a bee makes honey, or a vine bears grapes season after season without thinking of the grapes it has borne. — Marcus Aurelius

Eat figs! If I would say a certain type of fruit was sent down to us from the heavens I would say it’s a fig … — hadith of Prophet Muhammad (May Peace Be Upon Him)

Here it is in a nutshell: Old vines yield more concentrated fruit, resulting in richer wines with more sumptuous balance … Deep roots are a big asset too … — Beppi Crosario

May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid. — George Washington

Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. — Benjamin Franklin

I swear by the fig and the olive. — Surah At-Tīn (the fig), Qur’an

Today I begin a new life. Today I shed my old skin which hath, too long, suffered the bruises of failure ans the wounds of mediocrity. Today I am born anew and my birthplace is a vineyard where there is fruit for all. — Og Mandino

A great fig should look like it’s just about to burst its skin. When squeezed lightly it should give a little and not spring back. It must be almost unctuously sweet, soft and wet. — Yotam Ottolenghi

Probably the most revered tree in the world is Ficus religiosa, the sacred Bodhi, also known as Bo (from the Sinhalese Bo) of Burma, Ceylon and India. Siddhartha Gautama, the spiritual teacher and founder of Buddhism later known as Gautama Buddha, achieves enlightenment, or Bodhi, beneath this tree. It is said he sat under its shade for six years while he developed his philosophy of the meaning of existence. The term “Bodhi tree” is widely applied to existing trees, particularly the sacred fig growing at the Mahabodhi Temple at Bodh Gaya in the Indian State of Bihar. — W.P. Armstrong

The fig tree appears repeatedly in both the Old and New Testament of the Bible … but it has been cultivated for much longer. Sumerian stone tablets dating back to 2500 B.C. record culinary use of figs, and remains of fig trees were found during excavations of Neolithic sites from 5000 B.C. Some historians consider it the first of the domesticated crops. Figs hold a position of symbolism in many world religions, including Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Judaism and Buddhism, representing fertility, peace, and prosperity. Ancient Olympians earned figs for their athletic prowess, and Pliny the Elder extolled the fruit’s restorative powers. The prophet Mohammed reportedly identified the fig as the one fruit he would most wish to see in paradise.— Peggy Trowbridge Filippone

However, there is also a communal response. In the garden of our universe there is a fig tree we call planet Earth, Mother Earth, Home. … Now, the owner comes to us and warns us with messages such as the pending global warming reality or the gradual water shortage that Earth’s death is coming soon. The answer must now be a shift in our understanding of the place of the human within the community of all beings rather than in a dominating position. We are all one. How willing are we … to cultivate and fertilize this new way of understanding? … connecting with others to work together for “the fig tree’s one more year of life.” … means showing what it looks like to have a consciousness of the universal connectedness of all life in our everyday activities. The gardener knows there is something more that can be done in cultivating and fertilizing the tree … If that can happen, the tree will get another chance to bear fruit. Today, we are the gardeners (with) … a window of opportunity to take action for the life of this one place we call home. Individually, we may not think we can make a difference but collectively there is no question we can and we must take the actions we know are needed to transform our lifestyle from one of perhaps unconscious consumption and violent exploitation into one of reverence and nonviolence … taking action as individuals and more effectively as groups on the systemic level. — Mary Elizabeth Clark

Although commonly referred to as a fruit, the fig is actually the … scion of the tree, known as a false fruit or multiple fruit, in which the flowers and seeds are borne. It is a hollow-ended stem containing many flowers. — Jennifer, Vision & Thoughts blogger

Christian Commentary on Figs & Vines
The biblical quote “each man under his own vine and fig tree” has been used to denote peace and prosperity. — Jennifer, Thoughts & Visionsblogger

I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits. I believe that what self-centered men have torn down men other-centered can build up. I still believe that one day mankind will bow before the altars of God and be crowned triumphant over war and bloodshed, and nonviolent redemptive good will proclaim the rule of the land. “And the lion and the lamb shall lie down together and every man shall sit under his own vine and fig tree and none shall be afraid.” I still believe that We Shall overcome! — Martin Luther King

I am sure that in the story of Adam and Eve, the forbidden fruit was a fig and not an apple, pear or anything else. — Yotam Ottolenghi

Some biblical scholars think the fig, and not the apple, was the forbidden fruit picked by Eve in the Garden of Eden. — W.P. Armstrong

The type of fig leaf which each culture employs to cover its social taboos offers a twofold description of its morality. It reveals that certain unacknowledged behavior exists and it suggests the form that such behavior takes. — Freda Adler

It is with good reason that God commanded Moses that the vineyard and harvest were not to be gleaned to the last grape or grain; but something to be left for the poor. For covetousness is never to be satisfied; the more it has, the more it wants. Such insatiable ones injure themselves, and transform God’s blessings into evil. — Martin Luther

In [Luke] the landowner has waited three years for fruit that didn’t appear, and still the gardener is willing and able to care for the [fig] tree and to intercede with the landowner to save it … Mercy is still possible. — Sarah Dylan Breuer

No one – but no one – plants a fig tree in their vineyard. A fig tree would consume too much ground water, the canopy would produce too much shade, and the fig tree would attract birds that would eat the grapes. So when you hear this story about a fig tree in a vineyard, you should be alert to the possibility that this story might have to do with something other than figs and grapes. Yet there is also grace entwined in the figs and vines … the grace that Jesus talks of come when we least expect it, in places we least expect, and from people we least expect. If you keep reading this section of Luke beyond what is presented today, you will hear Jesus telling stories about how God’s grace springs forth … at unexpected times … or in unexpected places, like this fig tree growing where it does not belong, in a vineyard. Give grace a chance, Jesus says. Let it grow. You never know where you will find it. — James Richardson

So I can relate to the poor fig tree in our parable … The fig tree that for whatever reason cannot produce.  I feel like that not infrequently, maybe you do too.  Unable to produce. … Maybe we are all fig trees in a way … — Nadia Bolz-Weber


We might imagine that Jesus had many human faults. He failed most humanly, in my reckoning, when he killed the fig tree just because it didn’t bear any figs for his breakfast; that was a disgraceful, bad-tempered thing to do, and to try and make a virtue of it by saying it was a demonstration of faith only made things worse. — Michael Leunig

Our Lord never condemned the fig tree because it brought forth so much fruit that some fell to the ground and spoiled. He only cursed it when it was barren. — Edwin Louis Cole

Charism is the fig tree that blooms in every season; it is the fireworks of the fourth of July of grace and God and Jesus! … the gifts of the life of Jesus, we’re told in 1st Corinthians, remain, nevertheless, because the spirit gives them now to us as carriers of these religious traditions and also to you as bearers of them anew. — Joan Chittister

Knowing that our God does give us another chance, do we respond by producing spiritual fruit that is pleasing to God? Do we live our lives with usefulness, working towards God’s intended purpose for us, working together as one body to achieve equality for all of God’s children? — Sally Herlong

Given Luke’s consistent picture of God’s reaction … perhaps the gardener is God, the one who consistently raises a contrary voice to suggest that the ultimate answer … isn’t punishment – not even in the name of justice – but rather mercy, reconciliation, and new life. — David Lose

Looking closely, we see the many entwined branches, winding their way around one another in intricate patterns of tight curls that make it impossible to tell where one branch starts or another one ends. This is not just intricate; it’s intimate, and the vine shares with its branches the nutrients that sustain it, the life force of the whole plant … this vine is one with the branches … we find the best grapes close in to the vine, “where the nutrients are the most concentrated.” … This kind of abiding … showers us with “shalom, which speaks of wholeness, completeness, and health.” Here, close to the vine, immersed in shalom, we find not only nourishment but also hope and joy. — Kathryn Matthews


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