19 July 2007

Invocation: The essence of the Christian vocation (Reflection developed from the July 17th post):

Today's readings (Exodus 3:13-20, Psalm 105, Matt 11:28-38) center on God's revelation of his name and the instruction that we invoke it in our lives and ministry. Because of this I found myself thinking about a film that came out a couple of years ago. Two images in particular have stuck with me, and they are relevant to today's lections.

The first involves an emotional interview with the head of the camp (the film is a documentary of a religious Summer camp) where she expounds on the evils of Harry Potter. She is especially concerned that children not be taught or try to emulate the use of spells and incantations (the superstitious or "magical" use of formulae and names in order to influence or control the forces of nature, etc). As she rightly implied, such things demonstrate a lack of trust in the providence of God --- and more!

The second image is of a young girl trying to take with utter seriousness the lesson she had just learned about the importance of praying and living in the name of Jesus Christ, and the injunction to invoke the name of the Lord. She is jumping up and down shouting at a badly-thrown bowling ball, "Go straight, in the NAME OF JESUS, Go Straight!!!" Rarely have I seen anything more ironic than the juxtaposition of these two images. It probably goes without saying that something here has gone terribly wrong with an important piece of Christian teaching. Indeed, invocation has been distorted into incantation, the very thing the camp head decried!

Today's first reading is the key to understanding what is involved in genuine invocation of God's name. Although the lection uses the translation I AM, for the name YHWH, the Hebrew is more dynamic and filled with promise: it really means "I will be the One who I will be" and includes the implication that God will be faithful to himself, and will abide with us in season and out. When seen in this light the revelation of God's name is really a summary of what is involved in the covenants God makes with mankind. It reprises God's side of the covenant(s) and implies what our side will mean as well.

Invoking God's name means calling on the One who reveals himself as he who "will be who I will be." Thus, it also means letting this actually happen --- letting it be realized in our lives. It means that we allow ourselves to be open to the WHOLE person, not simply to aspects or characteristics of them we understand already or find congenenial. When we pray in the name of the Trinity, for instance, we open ourselves to a love greater and more sustaining and comforting than anything we can imagine. But, it is also a love which judges and purifies, chastens and challenges.

In this sense invocation is an act of vulnerability, not one of control. It does not mean insisting things go as we want, but rather, that we will allow them them to go as God wills and empowers. In the imagery of today's Gospel, we take upon ourselves the yoke of Christ, the freeing burden of humilty and obedience.

Invocation has a second and related sense then: it is our own acceptance of a commission or vocation to live our lives in the name of another rather than in our own name. It is not our prayers only that are to be undertaken in God's name, but every breath, action, and aspiration or accomplishment of our lives.

The story I began with says it is easy to get this wrong, easy to turn invocation into incantation, easy to trivialize and distort what should be the most profound act we undertake, the continuing ratification of God's covenant with us in a way which glorifies the Name of God. And in this week where the LAST Harry Potter book is awaited with bated breath in some circles (and Stillsong is among these), it is a good time to examine our own praxis with regard to the invocation of God's name. Does it really glorify God (that is, does it reveal God, or allow him to reveal himself, on his own terms)? Is it really an act of vulnerability and the ratification of the covenant, our commitment to letting God be the One he wills to be with and for us and our world? Or, has it degenerated into a more or less subtle form of incantation?