On Naming Wildflowers

“So out of the ground the Lord formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the mortal to see what he would call them; each one was to bear the name the mortal would give it.” 

Genesis 2:19

One of the first lessons of the Bible is a lesson of hospitality. Hospitality, in this story, has got quite a deep reach. It is a way of hosting the other within the core of our own presence: the creation, out of our actions (the exchange of words and silence, the glances and voices we share) of a space for the other. It is the building of an ark with every breath. Here in Genesis, we see that the first breath of speech that a mortal utters is a gift. Adam gives a name to each of the animals that the Lord brings before him. The first act of language is not to say something, but to adorn what is beyond us with our own spirit.

This story has been with me when I am with the wildflowers in our pollinator habitat. I have been spending a few hours a week now, with encouragement and help from Mike, Emily, and the other fellows, learning the names and stories of all the native flowers planted in those habitats. As I excitedly name each new plant in the chaotic mess of blossoming flowers, I can’t help but be reminded of an assertion from Philo of Alexandria: that the primordial act of speech is a testing of the speaker. The way the mortal calls to what is not himself, to what he receives and welcomes, “became the name not only of the thing called but of him who called it.”

I ask myself, looking at the field we wish to dedicate to these flowers and the relationships they sustain: what is the reach of hospitality?

This question has become my prayer. I have been among the flowers, asking them to receive my spirit, asking how to make space for them in myself: I have been asking for their names. I realized, in my prayer, that I need to give them my name as well. I need to introduce myself – or, perhaps even more radically, that I need them to name me. Jean-Louis Chretien writes on this, emphasizing that to give a name to a thing is to create oneself in response to that thing: “In what I allow to come to myself in and through language, I also reveal what I am myself.” 

These flowers were planted as a gesture of hospitality, as far as I see it. Plainsong staff, partners, and volunteers worked to clear a space for new life, plant new seeds, and be there to watch how many survived. The pollinator habitat represents a gesture towards communal reorientation. As Mike says, the land will be a relationship and not a resource. I hope that this is the work that guides our prayer: that all that is within us will be given as a space for the land and its hopes. I hope that together, we mortals can learn to come to the land and give it a name.

May my words be an ark across the waters of Being,

And may I build it with every moment of living.

May my body be a host for countless loves,

May my breath be a gift to the land from which it rises,

And may my longings be directed to the Source in which they are known.

May the Earth give me a name.