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What’s in a Name?

By Linda Hoffman Kimball

I sat in the hospital waiting room reading celebrity magazines, a guilty pleasure I rarely indulge in. My husband was in an operating room in Boston having a pin installed in his hand to help heal a fractured bone. In the great scheme of things, it wasn’t too big a deal.

Another family walked in and sat on the couches in a different corner of the room. We had a short exchange of pleasantries, after which one of that group said:

“Yuh not from around heah, ah yuh” – which, being translated, means: “You’re not from around here, are you.”

I told them I grew up in Illinois.

“You roll yuh ahhs.” (“You roll your “r’s.”)

After we had placed each other geographically by mother tongue, I learned that their loved one was having heart surgery. It was serious and life threatening. I settled back into my chair, and they carried on their own quiet conversation.

I started thinking about the room we were in. I had the sense that the walls and furnishings were thick with the love, grief, hope and longing absorbed from the intensity of all who ever had reason to be there. It was as though there were stories, weeping and prayers infused into the wallpaper just waiting for someone with “ears to hear” – if there were anyone who could bear up under the weight of it all.

This experience came back to me recently when I was given a new assignment as part of my morning shift at the Chicago temple. A new project was to train ordinance workers to handle office duties as well as the other mix of services we provide (from priestly functions to folding the laundry – all holy work in my opinion.) My assignment that day was to transcribe names from the prayer roll recording.

Besides being able to write down the names of dear ones with “afflictions” or concerns on paper at the temple itself, people can call the temple and leave names (spoken clearly, and spelled out, please) on an automated temple roll recording. Those names are then transcribed and made available with the handwritten ones for prayers on the altars of the temple.

As I transcribed the names that day I had a similar sensation to what I’d had in the hospital waiting room years before. Each slow syllable was potent and loaded with so many layers of love and concern and crisis. The voices varied (that day they were all women) – chipper, aged, matter-of-fact, anxious, many with Western glosses or Midwestern rolled “r’s.” Each of those voices represented loving, gentle thoughts or powerful tsunamis of turmoil on behalf of the person whose name they had just pronounced.

As I heard name after name after name, I felt a sense of awe. Of course I wasn’t privy to the particulars – just as the silent waiting room never shared its confidences. Each name I heard represented a specific child of God grappling with a challenge along the thorny spectrum of mortal experience. Each name was spoken by a thoughtful soul longing to connect that person with the energies of prayerful mortals and the compassionate Divine.

This litany became a prayer of its own – holy, charged, drenched in pleading. And that litany, that list of names – but so much more – made its way to the altars of our God, seeking the mercies of Him who surely “hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.” (Isaiah 53:4)

About Linda Hoffman Kimball

Linda Hoffman Kimball is an artist, writer, photographer, and poet who grew up as a faithful Christian near Chicago, & joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1971 while at Wellesley College near Boston. Early on she assumed that all Latter-day Saints were articulate, inquisitive, faithful, and socially engaged since her role models in the University wards in Cambridge, MA., were. Her husband says she is “fluent, but not native” in Mormon-ese. She is a founding member of Mormon Women for Ethical Government.

24 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?”

  1. That was a beautiful reminder to me to pause over people's names. How true that our whole life experience is rolled up in our name, like a glass ball in the hall of mysteries that contains all kinds of eternal secrets of import. May I never trivialize someone by forgetting their name again. I'm going to work on that.

  2. I am continually amazed at the numbers of Heavenly Father's children. For me it is beyond imagining. Yet, He knows each and every one intimately and we are each important to Him. Just yesterday I was reminded again of that love. I had rather desperate prayers for myself, for my family, for the young women and counselors I serve, and for a dear friend whose baby is in ICU. I needed a lot of specific answers. They came! What also came was peace, love, and a gentle reminder that I am loved and understood.

    Thank you, thank you for this beautiful post.

  3. I read this post from the other side of the equation. As I am approaching the first anniversary of my wife's death, I have been surprised by the number of people who have told me that they are praying for me–including a few that I had believed were irreligious It gives me strength to learn that my name is on the lips of people I would not have expected to pray at all, let alone pray for me.

  4. I loved this beautiful post. A year ago we moved close enough to the temple so that we can now go weekly, but for a long time I used the number I called toll free temple to put names on the temple roll. I never thought about those retrieving those names. Thank you for doing that service for me!

  5. I have been on both ends — placing names on the temple roll and having people put my name on the temple roll. There is power in praying for people by name. Beautiful post — thank you.

  6. thank you, linda! your message touched a deep place, gave me misty eyes.

    this part: "I started thinking about the room we were in. I had the sense that the walls and furnishings were thick with the love, grief, hope and longing absorbed from the intensity of all who ever had reason to be there. It was as though there were stories, weeping and prayers infused into the wallpaper just waiting for someone with “ears to hear” – if there were anyone who could bear up under the weight of it all." sooo good. wonderful thoughts.

    i have often considered the walls of my own home and what is wedged into the cracks and spaces, the life that happens there and covers the walls like paint. All the love, the kindnesses, the unkindnesses, the tears of grief and of joy, the prayers – it's all left there on the walls – in the walls. i'm visualizing layers that would reveal all the phases of life we experience at home (like the rings of a tree!).

    your post served as a powerful reminder to me of what i want my home to be, of what i want wedged into its walls and places. these were good thoughts for a friday afternoon.

    thank you again.

  7. Thanks again for prodding my mind and spirit to such heights!

    I really needed this especially as I am prayfully waiting to hear about the arrival of twins born this morning at MGH. I know the sister is fine; it's not yet clear about the brother.

    Your insights are always deeply appreciated here!

  8. I'm going to have to go with beautiful on this one, like everyone else. There's not another word that describes your writing and thoughtfulness better. I was very touched. Thank you.

  9. As we performed sealings one evening it occurred to me that the names being spoken were those of people dead for one hundred or more years and yet we were speaking their names and thinking of them. That to me is beautiful and I hope it was to the people whose names we spoke.

  10. What a striking connection, Linda, between the waiting room and the names. I can feel the reality and beauty of all those individual children of God in an almost physical way around me as I read your words.

  11. Thanks for this beautiful post. I'm so grateful for the temple prayer roll. I had forgotten you can call names in. I'll do that today. I have a great need for prayers, for my son and for me. And I would normally ask people to pray for us, but porn addiction is not something you want to announce. He's only 15, hates himself, Is failing in school, unresponsive to most of my suggestions, hopeless in his own recovery.

    When I realized the depth of his problem (that we naively thought was under control with internet safety on), I felt despair in my mind, but hope in my heart. I was grateful I didn't fall apart, but still know this challenge is just starting.

    Your words are so loving and descriptive. Thank you for lifting my worried mother heart.

  12. Thank you for your support and kind words about my post, ladies.

    I asked the temple matron yesterday a little about the prayer roll. One thing she mentioned was that sometimes people leave kind of odd "names" on the prayer roll. Apparently it has to be a "real" name because one time someone wrote "the lady whose car I hit" and they deleted it. I'm sure God knew who that lady was, but the temples have their policies.

    Of course there are many of us who will be praying for you, Anon, and for your son. Do you think recording "Ann Ahn and family" would be inappropriate?


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