When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. -Luke 2:15-21
We give thanks to thee, O Holy Father, for thy Holy Name which thou didst make to tabernacle in our hearts, and for the knowledge and faith and immortality which thou didst make known to us through Jesus, thy Child. To thee be glory for ever. Thou, Lord Almighty, didst create all things for Thy Name's sake...
-Eucharistic prayer 1st century, Syria from The Didache
The Word becomes flesh, the Unnameable becomes named and tabernacles among us; living, then dying, resurrecting, ascending, and pouring out the Holy Spirit. Then, in turn, we take him in and let him tabernacle in our hearts. If this is too big a concept, too fluid, too mysterious, we have the Name itself. Teachers of prayer say, Let the name tabernacle in your heart and all the rest will come to you without effort.
Here's the direction of the retreat: Opening with “Let us write the name of God above the new year,” writes Karl Rahner. “Yahweh is helping” and is near, loving, helping, and faithful (Meditation One).
The "insight/ turn around" invites you and me to enter into the practice of breathing the Holy Name so that it may eventually become one with the beating of the heart, offering an ancient way to of praying without ceasing (Meditation Two).
Finally, we center our vocation of service within a continually changing world by grounding ourselves in Paul's claim: "it is not I that lives but Christ lives in me” Galatians 2:20 (Meditation Three).
Happy New Year, -Suzanne
Meditation One (Introit) Entering the Threshold of the Year
On the feast of the Three Wise Men, it is religious tradition to write the names of C+M+B (Caspar, Melchior, and Balthasar) above the entry way. In the same way, let us write the name of God above the new year, the name of the God in whom is our help, the name of Jesus. Jesus means “Yahweh is helping.” Yahweh was the proper name for God among the covenant people of the Old Testament. It is possible to give God a name, even though God is nameless and unfathomable and people ultimately know God only as distant and hidden and incomprehensible. Yet, God can have a name because God revealed himself in the history of his actions and speech, so that we can see how exactly he wants to relate to us. All the experiences that people have had with the living God on account of God's dealings with humans are summed up in the “name” they give God. … And Jesus as a proper name tells us how this Yahweh wishes to be toward us: near, loving, helping, faithful to the end. … So let us give the same name to this coming year ! Let us mark the cross of this Jesus on our forehead, spirit, and heart! Let us say without hesitation: Our help is in the name of the Lord! And then let us confidently cross the threshold of the new year. Where his name shines there even the darkest hour of the year will be an hour of the Lord and his salvation.
-Karl Rahner, S.J. From a sermon collected in The Mystical Way in Everyday Life
Mary tickles Jesus. I don't know the source of this image.
Ah! Ah! That wonderful Name! Ah! That delectable Name! This is the Name that is above all names, the Name that is highest of all, without which no man hopes for salvation This Name is sweet and joyful, giving veritable comfort to the heart of man. Verily the Name of Jesus is in my mind a joyous song and heavenly music in mine ear, and in my mouth a honeyed sweetness. Wherefore no wonder I love that Name which gives comfort to me in all my anguish I cannot pray, I cannot meditate, but in sounding the Name of Jesus. I savor no joy that is not mingled with Jesus. Wheresoever I be, wheresoever I sit, whatsoever I do, the thought of the savor of the Name of Jesus never leaves my mind. I have set it in my mind, I have set it as a token upon my heart. What can he lack who desires to love the Name of Jesus unceasingly?
-Richard Rolle 1300-49 On the Song of Songs
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death - even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What shall we say of this divine prayer, in invocation of the savior, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me'? It is a prayer and a vow and a confession of faith conferring upon us the Holy Spirit and divine gifts, cleansing the heart, driving out devils. It is the indwelling presence of Jesus Christ within us, and a fountain of spiritual reflections and divine thoughts. It is remission of sins, healing of soul and body, and shining of divine illumination; it is a well of God's mercy, bestowing upon the humble revelations and initiation into the mysteries of God. It is our only salvation for it contains within itself the saving Name of our God, the only Name upon which we call, the Name of Jesus Christ the Son of God. 'For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,' as the Apostle says (Acts 4:12) That is why all believers must continually confess this Name: both to preach the faith and as testimony to our love for the Lord Jesus Christ, from which nothing must ever separate us; and also because of the grace that comes to us from His name, and because of the remission of sins, the healing, sanctification, enlightenment, and, above all, the salvation which it confers. The Holy Gospel says: 'These are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.' See, such is faith. And the Gospel adds, 'that believing ye might have life through his Name' (John 20:31). See, such is salvation and life.
-St. Simeon of Thessalonica d.1429 The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology
Virgin and Child Laughing, Rossellino OR Da Vinci, c.1472
Meditation Two (Insight) The Name of Jesus as Prayer
The practice of the Jesus Prayer is simple. Stand before the Lord with the attention in the heart, and call to Him: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me!' The essential part of this is not in the words, but in faith, contrition, and self-surrender to the Lord. With these feelings one can stand before the Lord even without any words, and it will still be prayer.
-Theophan the Recluse 1815-94 The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology
We went into his cell and he began to speak as follows, uninterrupted calling upon the divine Name of Jesus with the lips, in the spirit, in the heart; while forming a mental picture of His constant presence, and imploring His grace, during every occupation, at all times, in all places, even during sleep. The appeal is couched in these terms, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” One who accustoms himself to this appeal experiences as a result so deep a consolation and so great a need to offer the prayer always, that he can no longer live without it, and it will continue to voice itself within him of its own accord. Now do you understand what prayer without ceasing is?”
-The Way of A Pilgrim19th century
Meditation Three (Integration) Claiming Your Identity
For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, identity is a gift and a calling. We are creatures before we are anything else, fragile and corruptible yet made for a reason, with a unique part to play in the working out of the divine plan. Vocation - such a beautiful word - runs deeper than the usual identity markers. Vocation is fixed from the moment of conception (“before I formed you in the womb, I knew you”), and it is here, if anywhere, that our personality finds its stable center. Yet vocation is also fluid, telic, oriented toward change (“no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me”).
-Carol Zaleski The Christian Century, November 23, 2016, p.35
The Last Word
The name of the Lord Jesus Christ descending into the depths of the heart, will subdue the serpent holding sway over the pastures of the heart, and will save our soul and bring it to life. Thus abide constantly with the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that the heart swallows the Lord and the Lord the heart, and the two become one.
-St. John Chrysostom 4th century
I try not to “imagine” Jesus, but when Jesus pops into my imaginal landscape he's got crooked teeth. I don't “make”that happen, but maybe subconsciously I know that if there's an Incarnation “he” (in our tradition) can't possibly be perfect. He would sweat and smell and get toenail fungus like the rest of us. Otherwise, what's the point? Besides, people follow him for what he says and does, not for what he looks like. If you were healed of seven demons, you'd forget the teeth, too.
Temporal things have names. And so, the Son of God, the Son of Man, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Prince of Peace, Unnameable Holy, Inscrutable Beauty, Unspeakable and Silent Word incarnated would have a name. Maybe even a baby nickname.
Mothers improvise names all day and all night long in an extravaganza of nonsense syllables, cadences, rhymes, sounds (sometimes scatological) all of them meaning “I love you.” Mother's improvs are Baby's introduction to human ingenuity and auditory art.
This baby's name, Jesus, means “salvation is near.” Is this a political statement in a time of oppression? Did the boy Jesus worry about this? Did the young man take his name into the wilderness to wrestle with The Tempter over the nuances of the meaning of “salvation”?
My own interest is in the translation of Unnameable into a name. I like this kind of stuff;
Just as the senses can neither grasp nor perceive the things of the mind, just as representation and shape cannot take in the simple and the shapeless, just as corporal form cannot lay hold of the intangible and incorporeal, by the same standard of truth beings are surpassed by the infinity beyond being, intelligences by that oneness which is beyond intelligence. Indeed the inscrutable One is out of the reach of every rational process. Nor can any words come up to the inexpressible Good, this One, this Source of all unity, this supra-existent Being. Mind beyond mind, word beyond speech, it is gathered up to no discourse, by no intuition, by no name.*
Virgin and Child, French, c.1320, St Louis Museum
If I am to contemplate the Incarnation, you've got to grant me the crooked teeth, and a completely un-inscrutable capacity for laughter.
The art on this page celebrates Medieval and Renaissance images of baby Jesus and Mary enjoying silliness.
* Pseudo-Dionysius The Divine Names
Laughing with Mary and Jesus at the St. Louis Museum of Art
But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God. -John 1:12
You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins. -Matthew 1:21
Our help is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth. -Psalm 124:8
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb. -Luke 2:21
'For there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved,' as the Apostle says -Acts 4:12