At one point on the tiny road, we came across a sign put up by the Forest Service. It read, “Warning. Entering Grizzly Bear Habitat”, and it featured a large image in black and white of a grizzly bear paw print. For me, this sign was just a reminder to be “bear aware”, to secure food and trash in a sealed compartment in the trunks of our cars, which we would park a ways away from our camp, and to keep a lookout for large mammals foraging near the same stream as we would be fishing. But for our guests the sign was much more ominous.
What Rosean and I had not realized is that camping in Ireland is a very tame activity compared to what we were headed into. Apprehension had been building in our guests ever since we had left the more well-groomed dirt road at the base of the mountains. They trusted us as their guides, but, having no idea what to expect from the wilds of Wyoming, they felt vulnerable. The bear warning, with its image of a paw with enormous claws, was the last straw.
As we jounced toward it, I suddenly heard a loud exclamation from the back seat of our car. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph and all the saints preserve us!” expressed one of our Irish guests. The invocation both startled and amused me. It was not the sort of thing this calm, rational, and very unreligious woman would ordinarily say. It seemed to come from the soul, a prayer that would have been voiced in the ominous dark by her frightened ancestors and that lay quiescent in the bowels of her psyche until this moment: calling on the Holy Name of Jesus and the sainted ancestors to come to our aid.
In our civilized world we often forget the power of a Name to guide and protect us. Names have energy, and they can order chaos. When our fragile minds are overwhelmed by the stirrings of terror, when we have been distracted by obsessions of one sort or another, or when illness has left us without resources or defenses, a Holy Name can be a lifeline. It can help us remember to whom we belong and what has power in our lives. It can invite God into the midst of the situation.
When my friend called on the name of Jesus, his parents, and the saints that day in the wilds, she unconsciously gathered around her the comfort of her ancestors and the faith in which they had been born, had lived and died. She drew the blanket of continuity across her shoulders. There on the brink of the unknown, she anchored herself in her own familiar world.
For us as active followers of Christ, the Holy Name can be even more profound, a simple yet very effective prayer. All we need to do is utter: “Jesus the Christ.” Unpacking it, in this name is the source of our salvation: Jesus. In it is the source of our hope and our comfort: the Christ, the Messiah, the Incarnation of God.
As you celebrate the beginning of a brand new year, imagine finding a way to use the name of Jesus to call you into a deeper awareness in each present moment. I imagine an inscription on a candle holder or a bookmark. Hopefully we won’t experience the sorts of catastrophes that leave us stripped of our ability to think and remember. But, no matter what is going on, the quiet strength of the Holy Name can align the compass of our hearts in the face of all chaotic moments.