17 July 2007

In the Name of Jesus!!

This Thursday's readings begin with the Exodus story of Moses' commissioning by God, and with God's revelation of his name. It is a name best translated as, "I will be the One whom I will be" with the implication of complete and utter faithfulness to Godself, and to those he calls to himself. Following this is the responsorial psalm which begins, "Give thanks to the Lord, INVOKE HIS NAME, make known among the nations his deeds. . ." Finally, there is the Gospel from Matthew of the "Great invitation": come all to me you who are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."

WIth all these references to name (and to the idea of being appropriately yoked to Christ) I guess it should not surprise me that the images I have in my brain are taken from a film from last year involving a children's Summer Bible camp where kids are taught to be "soldiers for Christ" and given lessons in the importance of praying (and acting) in the name of God. In particular I recall a scene in one of the out-takes where a young girl is standing at the foot of a bowling lane just having rolled a not especially good ball. She is jumping up and down screaming, "go straight, In the NAME of JE- SUS!! In the NAME OF JESUS, I command you, go straight!!" or something rather similar. Counterposed to this image is one of a tirade by the woman who taught the girl this style of "prayer," against Harry Potter (the books, movies, phenomenon, characters, author --- you name it), the demonic aspects of witchcraft, especially against the use of spells and INCANTATIONS. Afterall, one should never use magic words or formulae to influence reality in a superstitious way!!! Well, the irony of the juxtaposition of these two images was pretty powerful for me. What was this little girl doing, and what had she been taught if it was not INCANTATION??? Certainly this is not a Christian notion of what it means to invoke the name of God!! Invocation is NOT incantation!

So what are Thursday's readings trying to say to us about the Name of God, and what it means to invoke it? The first thing I think is that whatever else invocation of a name is, it implies we are faithful to the one named and to the meaning (or better, the content) of the name. Essentially then, invoking God's name implies our being faithful to God and entails a commitment to (as his name says clearly) let him be the one he will be for us; it means allowing God to reveal himself on his own terms, in his own good time, and according to his own infinite wisdom. Further, since acting in the name of another means acting in their authority and so, being empowered BY them, invocation will also mean that our prayer is something done in God's power and authority, not our own.

Names are powerful symbols. They open us to the person as a whole rather than to various characteristics and partial aspects of their being. Again,when we call another by name we commit ourselves to allowing them to reveal themselves on their own terms rather than just to certain things about them we find congenial or admirable. The name symbolizes (makes present to us) the whole person. Accepting a commission to go in the name of another and to make known their deeds, is to accept a commission to allow that name (person) to be revealed in integrity and fidelity. Invocation thus has a narrow sense (calling or calling upon the name of the other), and a broader sense (being the one who is the counterpart of the one invoked in whatever way is really appropriate). Fundamentally, invocation is a covenental act: it is that act which reflects the humility and the docility to allow our lives to be defined in terms of another.

Incantation, of course is another matter entirely. It involves the superficial and superstitious use of another's name (or some other formula or "magic" term) in an attempt to coerce reality to correspond to our own needs and desires. Unfortunately, ending and/or beginning our prayers with the formula, "In the name of. . ." can sometimes be more incantation than invocation. We may not scream and shout out our demands as the young girl did in the movie, but all too often we forget that ALL prayer is the work of God in us ---- God's revelation of himself on his own terms and in his own time. We are asked to pray and live our lives in the name of Jesus Christ --- and so, in the power of the Spirit of God. Only when we allow God to be the one he will be, have we REALLY invoked God's name. Everything else is incantation, and as unworthy of Christians as any other act of superstition or magic.