What’s In a Name?

Last week’s post (which can be found here) started to explain why we were given the name Associations of the Light Morning. This week’s post continues that exploration.

Names Given and Taken

Early Light Morning
Ron, Marlene, Joyce, Robert

When I was born, my parents named me Robert. My father’s father celebrated the arrival of another grandchild with a cross-country telegram. But he was puzzled by my name. “Robert?” he asked. “Why Robert?”

Grandpa’s confusion was understandable. Children were expected to be given family names. He was Henry Wilder Foote II, named after his father who had died young. My father inherited the name Caleb Foote IV. Genealogy was important to Grandpa. Family names sustained and strengthened a family’s sense of identity.

My parents met and were married on the west coast in 1942. Far from their east coast families and freed from the constraints of family expectations and traditions, they were married on a lonely beach in southern California. It was just the two of them, plus a friend who was a minister, standing before the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. Three years later, in San Francisco, they named their firstborn Robert.

What’s in a name? Two friends of mine renamed themselves when they were young adults. Maxine became Naomi; Karen became Olivia. Two other self-chosen names gave America’s cultural stew pot a good stir. Malcolm Little became Malcolm X and Cassius Clay renamed himself Muhammad Ali. The names these four people had been given at birth no longer fit. So they took new names and assumed new identities.

Some names have twisted histories. Joyce’s father, for example, was Joseph Richard Downing. While growing up on a marginal Missouri farm, he was called Joe Dick. Yet he had been named for his mother (Joseph Evelyn) and his aunt (Richard Eliza). His grandparents, who already had four sons, tried to turn their daughters into sons, too.

Joe’s first-class intellect became a one-way ticket off the farm and away from his family. He received a PhD in nuclear physics, got a job with DuPont, and relocated to the east coast. Joe Dick became Dr. Joseph R. Downing. But who knows what subliminal residues remained lodged in the grown man’s psyche because a young farm boy had been named after his mother and his aunt.

Subcultures and Dialects

How do these stories relate to Associations of the Light Morning, the name we received through our psychic readings in June of 1973? What are psychic readings? Why did they use language like “the spiritual ideals of the Father”? And why did they tell us that there needed to be a light morning?

Names have implications and connotations. Words and phrases that turn some people on turn other people off. Within the mythical American mainstream culture are many subcultures. Each of these have distinctive belief systems and dialects. Virginia Beach in the early 1970s was one such subculture.

We had all been drawn there because of the Edgar Cayce readings. Cayce was the modern prototype of a psychic channel. He had taught himself to suspend his normal waking awareness in order to become a conduit for non-ordinary sources of information. His wife Gertrude was his conductor; his readings were prophetic; and the language he used while in trance was often biblical.

The ALM readings were inspired by and modeled on the Edgar Cayce readings, as were the psychic activities of many other groups and individuals in Virginia Beach and elsewhere.

This raises the thorny question of authenticity. None of us were practicing Christians. So when Tracy channeled our readings, did she use a Christian dialect because Cayce had done so? What if Cayce or Tracy had grown up Hindu or Jewish or Muslim? In that scenario, it’s unlikely they would have utilized the New Testament terminology. And if phrases like “God the Father” and “the Christ Consciousness” probably came from their subliminal conditioning, how much else of what they channeled might have come from that same place?

In the outer world of our everyday life, assumptions and expectations largely determine perception. They also help shape what we perceive inwardly, whether it be dreams, fantasies, or psychic readings. So were Cayce and Tracy speaking true when they spoke from their altered states of awareness? Or were their unacknowledged beliefs and biases coming through as well?

There’s a knee-jerk tendency to polarize over this question. Something is either true or false, real or unreal. My waking reality is true and my dreams are illusions. Or my dreams are true and my waking reality is the illusion. Those of us who worked with the ALM readings believed we were receiving inspired guidance. Many of our family members and friends, however, dismissed them as being superstitious nonsense.

But what if the polarization is based on a fabricated dichotomy? What if helpful inner guidance is available and is unavoidably colored and distorted as it passes through the personality? What then? How do we separate the grain from the chaff? How do we winnow the words?

Starting Blocks

Runners use starting blocks to brace their feet. It gives them something solid to push against when the starter’s pistol signals the beginning of the race. It helps them get off to a good start.

Sometimes we, too, need something solid to push against; a way to set ourselves apart from our parents, our problems, and/or our past. In traditional societies, adolescence was a critical and well-choreographed rite of passage. In these days, however, most adolescents are on their own. The result is that many of us wrestle with various forms of arrested adolescence.

Maxine and Karen, my two friends who pushed against their given names, had significant family dynamics they were trying to deal with. Malcolm Little and Cassius Clay wanted to confront a dominant culture that saw them as second-class citizens. So they used their name changes as starting blocks for the intense races they both intended to run.

Names and dialects are identity markers. I have a friend who was born in south Georgia. When he went off to college in the north, he deliberately changed his dialect. By the time I met him, his southern drawl had been completely eradicated. You couldn’t tell, from listening to him, that he had been born in the deep south. But he knew how people in the north reacted to a southern dialect, so he disowned it.

My father grew up as the son of a minister who insisted that his children go to church every Sunday. Joyce’s father received a cross and crown pin for his faithful attendance at Sunday school. But once Caleb and Joe left home, neither man had much use for anything spiritual or religious. They were scientific, rational, and objective, fully liberated from the dogmatic hypocrisies of the church.

Joyce and I also followed the same generational pendulum swing. The starting block that each of us pushed off against were birth family cultures that were secular, dream-demeaning, and shorn of almost all mystery and numinosity. So we of course became drawn to dreams, alternate forms of spirituality, and psychic readings.

The name we were given in Virginia Beach, Associations of the Light Morning, was soon shortened to ALM. That was how everyone knew us there. The name came with us when we moved to the Blue Ridge mountains. Many of our early friends from those days still refer to us as ALM.

But twenty-some years later, the name became problematic. First of all, it was a three-letter acronym, like UPS, FBI, and CIA. We also needed a name for those of us who were living in community on this piece of land.

As last week’s post made clear, the name Associations of the Light Morning was meant to be inclusive. It would pertain “not only to those directly involved with the group, but all those that might become, in one form or another, attached in their various ways, coming and going.” So we decided to keep using ALM to refer to our wider, more inclusive work and to start using Light Morning as the name for what was happening on this 150 acres.

This name change served its purpose, but it also came with a price. For when a name is used too often, we lose its web-work of associations. We forget about its original (and perilous) context.

Light Morning isn’t just a pretty name. It’s an ominous name, implying that time isn’t linear, but cyclical. Day and night, summer and winter, youth and old age trade places. This is true for civilizations as well as individuals. Whenever a culture becomes too enamored of progress, too fixated on youth and health, on daylight and pleasant weather, then the turning of the wheel of time brings unwelcome tidings.

Prophecy — and pandemics — serve to bring us such tidings; to remind us that everything arises and passes away and then later re-arises; and to call us toward a greater measure of caring, awareness, and resilience.

“For the darkness is coming upon the earth now. For there are many who do not see, who do not hear, who do not heed, who feel threatened. For their very existence would hinge upon their attachment to things which do not sprout or have their root within the spiritual ideals. Which is the reality

“Here, then, may come from the darkness a new beginning, a light dawn, a light morning. For from the morning comes the noon and the bright day. Only can these be born if there are the seeds, if there is the understanding, if there is the new form of approach, of ideals, of structure, of trying to perceive and enact within the structure of the physical and mental life, the spiritual ideals of the Father.”

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