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On Naming Animals

In the Biblical account of Creation, God placed Adam in a garden and told him to steward it and tend it. Then He looked at Adam and determined that it was not good for Him to be alone. So He formed all the animals of the dust of the earth and brought them to Adam so that Adam could name them.

Can you imagine what that must have been like? First of all, here’s Adam, newly created, everything new, not cynical, not trying to impress anybody, innocent to the very marrow of his very bones. Since his perception was utterly unclouded by a broken, misdirected will, not only was he full of joy at everything he saw, he was also able to see deep into the heart of everything he saw.

So God brought the animals to him and told him to name them.

How would he have done that?

Surely he looked at them first, right? Then he must have touched them. Can you see him rolling around with them too: wrestling with a great cat in the joy of their strength, running with a wolf in the ecstacy of their speed, plowing with a mammoth in the newfound thrill of their power!?

And can you see him listening to them?

Standing beneath a flawless oak tree, cocking his head to listen to the starling…
Opening his ears to the still aptly named Mockingbird…
Standing beside the lion and roaring together into the setting sun..

And then… having seen, touched, heard, smelled, even tasted them (them, not their carcasses)… then he contemplated them. He compared them to each other. He saw how they were the same and how different. He grouped them into kinds. He noted their unique qualities.

And with perfect, unfallen perception, he saw into their essences. He knew them.

Now, knowing them, apprehending them with his soul, merging the personal and poetic experience with the universal and abstract idea, he could re-present them.

Before naming them, might he have drawn them? I can’t help but wonder. Maybe some of them. Did he sing like they sang? Did he walk like they walked? Might he have painted, sculpted, or even written about them?

The great thing is that he could. Now that he has taken them into his own soul, he could represent them, recreate them, in any number of ways.

But we are told is that he came up with a very concise and practical way of re-presenting them. With his pure and unfallen language and intellectual perception, he took what he knew about them, he took their essences, and he re-presented them with a sound that was fitting to them.

A word.

A name.

He represented them with a name.


Now draw a contrast. God, it seems clear to me, was not just giving Adam a simple task. He was teaching him and preparing him for something much bigger: stewardship. Adam’s task was going to be to ensure that everything thrived. For things to thrive, they need to be known. So God was teaching Adam.

Now compare how a modern person would have its creation name the animals. I can see it now. We would make a huge computer printout with a list of animal names on one side, most of them being more or less arbitrary, which is to say, driven by personal interest.

Then we would put pictures or carcasses or some shoddy representation of the animal on the right side.

And we would have them draw lines from the word to the non-animal. And then we would say, “There, now you know what a horse is.”

Why do I say that? Because that’s how we tend to teach everything.

We don’t let the students play with the animals. We tell them to memorize their names and then give them carcasses and call them animals. A dead frog is not a frog. A dead dog is not a dog. They are animal bodies, not animals.

For example, when we teach students grammar, we rarely let them experience the thought in their minds that is a sentence. For example, a teacher can help students see that every thought has both a subject and a predicate by playing with them. I don’t tell them those names; I introduce the animals first.

I say something like, “Think about a dog. Now tell me what the dog is doing.” I’ll do that one hundred times if I have to. What I want them to SEE – not to memorize, but to SEE – is that they cannot think a thought without thinking about something. And when they think about something, they have to think something about the thing they are thinking about.

Then I can tell them the names: subject (what you are thinking about) and predicate (what you are thinking about the thing you are thinking about).

At this point, because they have gained an insight into the nature of thinking that any third grader can get with little trouble, they have become capable of understanding that our minds work like they do because we are stewards of the creation. In other words, we think in subjects and predicates because things exist in subjects and predicates.

Our minds are formed by God to know the world we live in so that we can love and steward it.

But I find that most teachers of grammar are so caught up with the sound symbols we call words that they never take the time to look at the mind doing the thinking. So the miss this opportunity to play with the animals.

This, I believe, is Wordsworth’s famous lament, when he said, “we murder to dissect.”

We have, when we teach children, the opportunity to imitate God. Instead, we imitate factories, all the while calling out for the “joy of learning.”

The joy of learning can only be experienced by people who learn. They need no bells and whistles to celebrate what is a joy in itself.

But people given carcasses and names for things they don’t care about don’t learn. Their eyes and ears and mouths and noses are closed. So they close their minds to join them.

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