Hagiology was the topic of last week’s catechism class, and we were told to be thinking about who our “special saint” might be, so that when the time came for us to be chrismated, we’d know whose name to take.
A new name? The prospect excited me enormously. But when I mentioned my excitement to my priest, he said that if a person already has the name of a saint, taking a different name is discouraged. I did a Google search to see if there’s such a person as Saint Emily.
There is. I have to admit I was disappointed.
It’s not that I don’t like my name — I do. I’ve just always been fascinated with the idea of changing it. I suppose I’m a little obsessed with the idea of instant transformation. Which may be why I change my hair all the time — it’s something tangible, something outward, something easy to measure: here’s who I am now. It may also be why I am so eager to convert to Orthodoxy — religion as identity.
The quest for self understanding is never-ending, and there’s a part of me that wishes it would just be conferred, once and for all, so I could get down to the business of being instead of the ceaseless evaluation of what I am and what I am not; what I agree with and what I do not — all the parts that make up the greater sum of myself.
To complicate matters, I’m not static. Meaning, that even when I figure something out, it doesn’t necessarily remain true or helpful to me forever. Or sometimes I just forget and have to keep relearning things. Or learning new ways to think about the same things. The process is very inward, and exhausting, and usually defies articulation.
If there were a name (or hairstyle, or religion) that perfectly summed up everything about me, both for myself and the world at large, then perhaps I wouldn’t have to work so damn hard all the time. Perhaps I wouldn’t feel the constant strain of having to explain myself, or the despair at being unable to do so.
But I don’t want to be static. Which is why the hair changes. My name would probably keep changing, too, if I started down that path. I’m never going to stop making determinations and discoveries about who I am, because if I did, I’d get bored. It would be a complete loss of wonder, the despair of St. Zosimas before he met Mary of Egypt. I known people for whom every belief or opinion was already decided, and they tend to be pretty insufferable. So I guess I’ll stick with my name and the transformation that comes with a journey.