by Michelle Armster
I like my name. My first name means ‘close to God’ or ‘gift of God.’ My middle name is for a great aunt, Elizabeth – favorite of my mother’s, who had a call to ministry but because of her faith tradition she left home, went to Bible College, and then planted a church that she pastored until her death.
I also have two other names that were given to me by close sister-friends from the continent of Africa. They come from the Oromiyaa and Swahili languages, and both names have the same meaning although they were given to me years and miles apart. I hold those names dear and close and very few people know them.
That is why I have been meditating on the second portion of the first verse of the Isaiah reading, “The Lord called me before I was born, while I was in my mother’s womb he named me” (49:1).
Naming is important. Naming is about power. Naming can build or destroy. Racism, sexism, heterosexism and other forms of oppression deny those who are victimized by the oppression their voice, agency and the right to name themselves or to use the name the Lord gave.
For me, this Lent has been a time of remembering, releasing and reclaiming. Embracing and speaking the names of women of color whose lives do not seem to matter is one way that has brought a taste of healing and hope. This list of women include indigenous and African American sisters whose names, if not spoken, will be forgotten:
SAY their names!
You who are known by many names- spoken and unspoken.
Forgive us for silencing the voices of the many who are your children.
Today we slowly and lovingly say the name of these sisters, whom we have ignored and dismissed.
Michelle Armster is a Roots of Justice trainer and the executive director of Mennonite Central Committee Central States.