Our help is the name of Adonai, maker of heaven and earth. (124:8)

The power of names. I love superheroes and will watch virtually any television series and see virtually any movie featuring characters from Marvel or DC. When I was young, I recall a short-lived television series based on a DC comic about Captain Marvel. Billy Batson was a teenage boy who, when he witness injustice, would strike a dramatic pose and transform himself into Captain Marvel by pronouncing the word, “Shazam!”

Then there is the beloved fairy tale collected by the Grimm brothers, in which uttering the name “Rumplestiltskin” causes the title character to stomp his right foot into the ground so hard that he either falls into a chasm or gets stuck and tears his body in two trying to escape, depending on which edition you read.

Jewish tradition asks us not to pronounce the personal name of God, spelled with the Hebrew letters Yod-He-Vav-He. Instead, we substitute the name Adonai (roughly, my Lord) or occasionally Elohim (God). We recognize that part of the power of the use of a personal name is that it implies equality between the user of the name and the owner of the name. Similarly, I would never address my parents as ‘Dale’ and ‘Bob.’ Instead, I use the titles Mom and Dad as a sign of honor.

In ancient times, the names of gods were thought to have had great power. Some mystical traditions attempt to discover the secret name of God. Using it, a person could supposedly control aspects of the physical universe. Other traditions use the name of God as a mantra. A meditation centered on breathing in and out the letters of God’s name will not give you God’s creating power, but may very will calm and center your mind, thus releasing your own creative energy.