Monday, June 15, 2009

The Name we most need to hear

The recent situation with the "internet sensation" Susan Boyle highlights an interesting aspect of human nature that's worth considering. If you're one of the few people on the planet who hasn't heard of Miss Boyle, she was an unknown Scottish spinster with an incredible voice who got her big break on the talent search show Britain's Got Talent - her debut performance can be heard here. Once on the internet, this snippet garnered an amazing number of views, and soon the hitherto unknown singer was talked about everywhere. It seems the recognition for her tremendous singing talents was finally at hand.

The rest of the story, so far as it can be understood through the media filter, is not so pleasant. As the show's season progressed and she was increasingly lionized by the public, her composure began to crack. Reports of public outbursts, breakdowns, and erratic behaviour began to surface. Shortly after the final show in the competitive Talent season, she was hospitalized for exhaustion. Whether she'll participate in a post-season live tour is currently in question.

My point here is not to laud or demonize Miss Boyle. Her vocal talent is beyond question, and I wish her the very best as a person and as a Christian sister. But without speculating on motives or internal factors - about which we know nothing, regardless of what the media may say - there's one lesson that can be drawn from this incident.

We humans like to hear our own names. It's part of our fallen condition - our overweening egos crave feeding, and hearing our names in the mouths of others is rich fare for them. We like seeing our names in the papers, and the thought that people we don't know could be discussing us gives a bit of a thrill.

The problem is, this isn't healthy. Especially for we fallen ones, the name we most need to hear is Jesus. Great saints and spiritual masters stress that the more we hear His name and the less we hear our name, the better - and the most blessed state of all is self-forgetfulness. When we are so caught up in Jesus that we forget ourselves, then we're getting close to where we should be.

Granted that none of us know anything about Miss Boyle, and that speculation from a distance on data obtained through the media is very dangerous, I'll still venture a guess that some of her struggles arise from suddenly hearing her name far too much. By all accounts she was a quiet, retiring homebody, little known outside her immediate circle. To be abruptly catapulted into international notoriety, with her name showing up in television broadcasts and on the lips of millions of strangers, seems a recipe for an overdose of attention. Suddenly she was hearing her own name almost everywhere. Could that have knocked her emotional equilibrium off balance? Only God knows, but it wouldn't surprise me.

Interestingly, this state of fame, of wanting to hear our own name in our ears, is a powerful attraction to many of us, including myself. In the economy of the fallen world, fame is a powerful currency. People will work hard and suffer deprivation and humiliation for the prospect of being famous. Yet Miss Boyle's experience, as well as many others through history, indicates this currency is as false as any other found in the world.

For twenty years now, part of my daily discipline has been saying morning and evening prayers - lauds and vespers in the classic cycle. There's definitely something about opening a day and closing it with the name of Jesus on your lips. The more we work on making that Name part of our daily life, the healthier our spirits will be.

So the next time you hunger to hear your own name - maybe when you feel slighted or unrecognized - try whispering the Name above all Names for a while. That's the Name our fallen ears most need to hear.