(We Baptized the daughter of my dear friends John and Marie Marheineke last night, Evangeline Lila. It was a wonderful raucous event––Evie screamed all the way through the Baptism itself––and we had great fun. Below is my homily, some reflections on her name.)
From the day I found out about this baby’s name, my mind started playing with it. Evangeline Lila. “Evangeline” of course is a form of the Greek euangelistes, which is the root of “evangelist,” what the gospel writers were called. But it literally means someone who is “a bearer of good news.” You may not be aware of the meaning of the name Lila. Whether John and Marie intended it or not, the English name is a form of the Sanskrit word lila. I have a favorite definition of that word that I use all the time when I teach. Lila is
…the joyous exercise of spontaneity involved in the art of creation.’
Lila is the freedom of movement, as in the rush of water from a fountain.
Lila represents an exuberance in creation,
undertaken by God for sheer delight,
which is the reason why there is something rather than nothing.
Each of those phrases means something to me.
I wonder if there could be a better description for conjugal procreative love than “the joyous exercise of spontaneity involved in the art of creation.” But then to transfer that meaning onto God’s presence and action in the world! The ‘joyous exercise of spontaneity involved in the art of creation.’ Not capriciousness, mind you, but prodigality. Sheer gratuitousness. I remember I was told that in one African country the catechism began by asking the question, “Why did God create you?” and the answer given was, “Because He thought you’d like it.” Lila represents this exuberance in creation, undertaken by God for sheer delight, and that’s why there is something rather than nothing. Why there is Evie, Luci, Abby, and Mika instead of nothing. Why there is all of creation and you and me and rosebushes instead of nothing.
But even more, I love this phrase the “freedom of movement, as in the rush of water from a fountain,” which obviously is a propos to our Baptismal duties today. Because this is what has become for me the very center of the Gospel––and that, by way, is what Evangline Lila’s name has come to mean to me: literally, “a playful bearer of good news,” but to me her name means “the play of the Gospel,” the joyful, exuberant play of the Gospel. Why did Jesus come into the world? Because God so loved the world! Why did Jesus come into the world? So that his joy would be in us, and that our joy would complete! Why did Jesus come into the world? That we may have life, and life to its fullest! That we might be co-creators and experience the joyous exercise of spontaneity involved in the art of creation, that we might be a part of the exuberance in creation. That we might know joy, exuberance, freedom of movement and delight. That’s what I mean by the “play of the Gospel.” Why did Jesus come into the world? Because he thought you’d like it!
Today we celebrate the love of God being poured into Evangeline Lila’s heart by the Spirit living in her. But from here on out we are charged to make sure that she knows and never forgets the freedom and responsibility involved in being a child of God, freedom of movement, as in the rush of water from a fountain. How oddly similar that is to Jesus’ own words about the spring of living water that should flow from out of our hearts, the Holy Spirit. You see, the love poured into our hearts is only one part of the movement, the first part. Then it is also meant to pour back out as well––in creativity, in participation in the divine nature, as St Peter says; in love and service, the washing of feet, as Jesus shows. That will be the exuberant Eucharistic movement, which we will already look forward to and mention in the rite of Baptism. All this will be her sharing in the gratuitous joyous exuberant art of creation undertaken by God for sheer delight.
So, Evangeline Lila: you are a playful bearer of good news; may you know the joy of the Gospel of Jesus, and be a joyful bearer of it to the world as well.