So, what’s up with my website name, anyway? Yes, Ryah is my surname, and of course everyone knows Vida means “life” in Spanish thanks to that sage cultural commentator Ricky Martin (Livin’ La Vida Loca). So one might think it’s a simple leap to “Angelie’s Life” as the entire meaning. But when have I ever settled for simplicity?? Nay nay! There’s much more to it. Let me explain:
Many of you knew me back when I was Mrs. Dahn. (And before that, Miss Smith. A high school dude, Tom, told me my name was like Indiana Jones: weird + boring. Tom was not given to subtlety.) In the process of being divorced, one of the many legal steps is declaring your post-divorce name. It occured to me one day in the middle of a seminary lecture on psychopathology (no connection I’m sure) that I could choose any name I wanted. I could call myself ANYTHING! For at least 10 minutes I stared into space imagining the possibilities: Queen Elizabeth (taken). Sophia (lyrical, means Wisdom, good option…). Mariah or Roxanne or Alexandra, something sultry. (Hmmm… Pastor Roxanne just would not fly.) Every part of my name was up for grabs, not just the last chunk. High Priestess of All Things Chocolate!!! There it was!! People would *have* to call me that as my legal name. And my street name would rock: Hi-Pree C. YO. But I sadly realized that was a lot to write out on personal checks, applications, etc. It would wreak havoc with online forms. Hearing it called out loud in a waiting room might draw attention I didn’t want to deal with. *sigh*….. So I got a bit more serious and asked myself what was most true about me, what did I want to be reminded of every time I heard it? Was there anything God had been teaching me that I could affirm? Yes. Yes there was.
Throughout my long dark struggle with depression God had been whispering, hinting, singing, telling, persuading me of that single core identity: I am Beloved. I am cherished, treasured, wildly loved, sought out, longed for, wept over, embraced, dreamt about, worthy. Chosen. Even and perhaps especially as I felt the most broken in my entire life, useless, hopeless, pathetic. Only on my good days could I imagine a time when maybe I would be sorta likeable again. So there it was: my new name would remind me I was Beloved. But how? Angelie Beloved? Beloved Angelie? Bleah.
Being in seminary, and a masochist, I had studied Hebrew along with Greek. Looking up the root words for “beloved” didn’t turn up anything snazzy, and besides I wanted the feminine form. On a whim I hunted down a professor, and Dr. Vogt had unwisely left his office door open that day. Upon explaining my name challenge Dr. V graciously dropped what he was doing to crack open some Hebrew references. He made the delightful announcement that the feminine form of “beloved” was quite different from the masculine form; no simple vowel change at the end as an afterthought, no. It was its own word, found most frequently in the Song of Solomon. (Did I mention wanting a sultry name…?) The semantic field included nuances of “faithful companion, sister, wife”. Perfect! It even sounded nice: Ra-yah. Ryah. My new last name! It has been endlessly significant to be reminded each time I write it that I am beloved. Every time I hear it spoken, see it in a list, correct the spelling (no, it is not ryaN), and introduce myself I agree with God that my core identity is being loved.
Fast-forward. As I was musing on a name, this website was certainly intended to share my shenanigans with my many fans, but the enduring hope is that what I am about –in ministry, work, nonwork, all of life really–is inviting everyone to discover their own belovedness. Their own unearned cherished-ness, the treasure God hovers over with tenderness and delight. And that means everyone: homeless, undocumented, every shade of skin, Democrat, Republican, the 99%, the 1%, even Congress and our current President. Every single one is longed for, pursued, relentlessly courted by God.
What a perfect fit for a spiritual director! As I walk with clients, listening for those same divine whispers and love songs is my focus; sometimes it’s hard to hear them on your own and having someone with ears tuned to their melodies can help you hear them too. That part of my work is delightful and relatively clear. What is more of a learning curve for me is training to be a peacemaker: with so much division and distrust in American culture right now, it is tragically obvious that we have forgotten our own belovedness, and are unable or unwilling to see it in those we oppose and fear. How might living from a stance of abundance instead of scarcity and competition change that dynamic? What if you were convinced in your very bones that God is looking out for you and will provide for you? That you don’t have to fight for what you need? That there is in fact enough for everyone in God’s paradigm? Crazier yet, what would change if the person you dislike or the people you label as “Them” were also seen as totally embraced by the same God? What if “those ______” were in fact exactly who God makes goo-goo eyes over when Gabriel brings them up?
The notion of Beloved Community that MLK spoke so passionately about is a dream of mine too. A place of belonging where no one is excluded, all are welcome, everyone is family. Yes, it feels impossible most days… but it is still what I want to strive for. Because I know myself as Beloved, and want that same vital healing understanding for every living creature on the planet. Ryah Vida for everyone!
Photo by Alfonso Scarpa on Unsplash