If you have read any of my previous posts, you may be detecting a bit of a trend, if you will, between my name and me. Legal name, nickname, biological name, adopted name, married name…names, names, and more names!!
It is obvious that a name is very important. It is important because it creates identity. It tells others who we are. It tells others a little about who we are. It tells others from where we originate in relationship to a particular location on the globe. A name is very telling.
Remember the old defiant saying we use to say as kids?…sticks and stones may break our bones but words can never hurt us. Well I’m not so sure about that. If you were ever called an ugly name, as a child, by other children, I guarantee you can still recall the name, the place it was stated, who said it –plus, I can even bet that the same sad uncomfortable pain you felt back then, can still be felt as you read this today. Name-calling creates a negative identity, one that can have a lasting effect.
As soon-to-be new parents, part of the joy and anticipation of the nine months of waiting is deciding on what to name the baby. Truth be told, many a young girl, and I bet a few boys as well, have always dreamt of what they will one day name their future child, even as that event is many years away.
Fathers-to-be usually wish to bestow a part of the family legacy on future generations by naming a son after themselves, or after their own father or grandfather—hence junior or the III. Mother’s sometimes opt for a family name as well or the name of a dear friend. The new moniker carries loves, honor, and respect. Sometimes even originality but I don’t wish to get into that debate, as the news is full of kids having names that actually force families to court to create legality or legitimacy to a particular chosen name that is, say, off the beaten path of names.
There can also be, however, the lasting negative connotation of names. Who wants to be named Judas, or Hitler? A name that was once ok and common, by the act of one individual can alter how the world views that name from that day for evermore—always casting shadows on anyone who carries such a name in a future generation.
Those of the religious communities, particularly within the Catholic and Orthodox faith, usually take on a new name upon their ordination or consecration—particularly those seeking a life in the monastic communities. The choice of name helps to create a new identity in the new chosen life. The leaving of the old self behind, a death in many ways, giving way to a renewed birth—a new life, a new identity, a new future. There is the hope of being able to live up to the new name, as it is usually the name of a Saint—big shoes to fill.
We recently witnessed the importance of names, as just last week, the world waited with bated breath, as to what name our new pope would choose. The name Francis has resounding possibilities—will he live up to the chosen name remains one of the questions we all wonder as we have placed so much strength and hope in this particular name of choice. And why is that? Is it because of one Francis who lived so long ago? One person with one name cast his stone to the waters and the ripples continue to reverberate to this day. Yes. There is power in a name.
Many of those of the Jewish Orthodox Faith will not say the word that we so often take for granted…God. Nor will they not write the name; it will appear often as G space d. It is too powerful a name for us mere mortals to utter. And so it use to be. More about this momentarily.
One of my most favorite quotes by Mother Teresa is: “One of the greatest diseases is to be nobody to anybody.” I used that on my school e-mail as my tag line. It was important to me that those of us, especially in Education, to be reminded of the most important part of our job—creating lasting relationships with our learners/ students.
In a time that has only created suspicion and paranoia about the adults who are entrusted to tend to and care for children I thought, and still think, it very important that those strong bonds be able to continue to be forged. And those bonds and relationships all begin with the learning of a name.
On the first day of school the roll is called and there is acknowledgment made to the called name and it is at this important moment a relationship begins…
As I think about the beginning of relationships, I think of Moses meeting God for the first time…when that most of important relationships began. It is hard for me to even imagine such an encounter. But because of that relationship, I now have a relationship with the very same God.
As Moses came upon the burning bush—a conversation began. Moses was uncertain as to whom he was speaking. From the story in Exodus (Ex 3), we all know that the voice and the presence form the burning bush is that of God, but can you imagine…you are out in a barren land (look at pictures of this area of Sinai—barren sums it up pretty well) tending to some sheep or cattle. All they have to eat is some dried brush. Jagged mountains, dust, rocks, sky is all that surrounds you. Suddenly you see what you think is a brush fire.
Upon closer inspection…it is not a brush fire per se. A voice from somewhere breaks your intent curiosity. It tells you to stop. Take off your shoes as you are on hallowed ground. Perhaps the shoes separate your being from touching the hallowed ground. There can be nothing that separates you from this Presence. Perhaps the shoes denote some sort of disrespect. You take off the shoes.
Moses had grown up in the court of Pharaoh. He knows all about respecting authority. He knows all about telling someone to do something and it is expected that whatever task it is will be done. He knows of rank and order. He also knows about suffering and torment.
God begins a conversation with this wayward shepherd, this lost soldier, and this lost child. As the conversation continues, Moses is told he needs to go back to the others of his “clan”, his people, the people of Israel and God’s people and “lead” them. A tall order, but Moses knows that when one is given an order by Authority, one must obey. It’s the others he’s a little worried about.
So he says to the bush (God), “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of our fathers has sent me to you’, and they ask me ‘what is his name?’ what shall I say to them? God says to Moses,” I AM WHO I AM.”
WOW, that’s pretty powerful. I Am Who I Am. No more explanation needed.
‘And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you.” God also said to Moses, “Say this to the people of Israel, “The Lord, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, has sent me to you. “This is my name forever, and thus I am to be remembered throughout all generations.”
So now I come to the whole gist of this little lesson in names.
Our society has become, shall we say, a bit more casual of society then previous generations. We don’t possess the same sense of need to be formal which can in turn be perceived as a lack of respect. We are casual with what we call one another. Names used as a general term of recognition today, generations ago were seen as an insult, a slur, a reason to fight. I don’t like this casualness.
We take names for granted. They no longer hold the authority that they once did. Street names take on greater importance than that of a birth name. It’s as it we have multiple personalities. The birth name is one person, the nickname, street name, the stage name …is someone else entirely. I don’t know if this is a good thing.
Over the years I have read a good bit about the Eastern Orthodox Church. Our Christian cousins. They remained a mystery to me—something seen as foreign. I knew the succession from Catholicism on down the western Christian family tree to the Protestant denominations we see today, but it was the Orthodox who I didn’t quite understand. And that I feel is a shame as Western and Eastern Christians have so much to share and offer one another.
So I immersed myself in reading the history and beliefs of these “cousins”. One thing I’ve discovered is that the Orthodox have a tremendous reverence for the name of Jesus, for the very power that exists within that name. I had not quite looked at it that way before.
As this society, of which I live, takes that name, and all other names for granted– the power it holds lessens. Not so much in reality of the name of Jesus, but in today’s perception of the name.
How many times do you hear someone say “Jesus Christ” as a form of frustration or anger?—a phrase clumped into the 4 letter word category. (and don’t get me started on the whole casual use of foul language in our society. People argue, “it’s just a word”…yes, well, words have meaning and power and should not be uttered with abandon and disregard—and others will argue “they only have power if you let them”…well let’s go back to the historical lesson we have here, shall we, and see what the Bush had to say about words, names and actions…but then you’d need to believe in the Power of a bush wouldn’t you—-I do.)
I suppose I was convicted that I had/have not taken the name as reverently as I should. My generation has been inundated with the irreverent use of the word. Form “the church lady” on Saturday Night Live to those oh so Southern television evangelists, from days gone by, who would slap people on their foreheads spouting “in the name of JEESSUS, be healed”…we make fun, we laugh, we lessen the power and importance of the name and of the Person.
I realized that I had become perhaps jaded and cynical– having lost some of the respect and awe that this name, Yeshua יֵשׁוּעַ holds for me and should hold for me, as it should hold for all of us who claim to be believers. We cannot make Him small but we have tried. We have tried to bottle Him up, make Him tiny and make Him our “friend”, our feel good drug, if you will, our quick fix, our fashion statement…but He is greater and deserves to be treated as such.
And so it was with the learning of an ancient prayer that is but simple and yet very powerful. I had originally intended to write about The Jesus Prayer, but I felt to understand the importance of the name would be the issue today more so than the history of the prayer. Once I was reintroduced to this oh so Powerful of Names, I came to claim this prayer, as countless numbers of believers before me, as a powerful tool.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have Mercy on me a sinner”. It is a prayer that evokes deep feelings and yearnings. It is direct. An arrow prayer if you will. A prayer that is used to bring an inward sense of stillness and quietness for one’s very being. It is a prayer of focus and control. It is a cry in desperation. It is a soothing balm to a broken and contrite spirit.
I will write at a later date more about the prayer, its use, and its history. But for today, this Monday in the midst of Lent, I will leave you with the importance of a name and of the importance of a prayer. A prayer that calls upon the most important Name of names. May you find it as powerful as I have and may it bless you as it has blessed me.