Lay Anglicana, the unofficial voice of the laity throughout the Anglican Communion.
This is the place to share news and views from the pews.

Get involved ...

Naming Jesus: Chris Fewings



Dear name! The rock on which I build
My shield and hiding place,
My never failing treasury filled
With boundless store of grace!

John Newton

Today is the Naming of Jesus in the church’s calendar. Many of our hymns specificially celebrate this name, the ‘name above every name’. Our own names and nicknames are an important part of who we are and how we relate to other people. A change of name can be highly significant. Jesus (Yeshua in Aramaic, his own language) is the same name as Joshua, God saves (Yehoshua in Hebrew). In our liturgy we rarely address Jesus – we pray to his Abba in his spirit, with his breath – but private devotions are different.

In the Christian East, the habit of invoking the name of Jesus merged with St Paul’s injunction to ‘pray without ceasing’. This is sometimes traced back to the cry of blind Bartimaeus in the gospel story: Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. The cry for help, for healing, is an essential part of this tradition (‘mercy’ is said to be a poor translation of the Greek eleison – perhaps ‘grace’ comes nearer): it undermines our illusion of self-sufficiency and reminds we are contingent beings.

Byzantine monks in the middle ages developed a meditation technique around this prayer, which they aspired to have always on their lips or in their hearts when they were not speaking or praying in some other way. In the nineteenth century, the book The Way of the Pilgrim popularised the prayer for Russian lay people. The revival of interest in contemplative prayer in the last fifty years in western Europe (and the Orthodox diaspora) has brought it to our attention too.

The prayer of the name is not unique to Christianity. Repeating a simple sentence or mantra in meditation, usually including a divine name, is found in Hinduism, Sufism, and Pure Land Buddhism for example. The closing lines of John Newton’s hymn

And may the music of that name
Refresh my soul in death

remind me of a Hindu practice of urging the dying to die with the God’s name on their lips, as Gandhi-ji did.

The traditional Orthodox form of the prayer is Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. I used this in daily meditation for a few years in my twenties, although for me it gradually became Lord Jesus Christ, give us your grace (which also fitted the rhythm of my walking). I would sit on a prayer stool in front of a candle and an ikon – well, a photo of a mosaic in the dome of Cefalu Cathedral in an art book borrowed from my parents. With varying degrees of distraction, I would repeat the prayer mentally, vocally, or just moving my lips.

I continued to think of new variants of the words, which has its down side as the traditional form is given – it’s just there – and there’s no need to think about whether it makes perfect sense. Occasionally I use the form Yeshua bar Miriam, breathe in us. Although it may seem a highly privatised practice, I’ve witnessed the CWSG Anglican contemplative community saying the prayer together daily, using a traditional prayer rope.

In late 1987, my safe little world shook up by falling in love and a week-long Ignatian retreat, I tried something new: lying on my back, hand on heart or rather aorta, the word Jesus ticking with my pulse. The following year I moved abroad, no longer lived alone, and stopped meditating, but the prayer never quite left me. Sometimes at night I think the two syllables Je-sus with my rising and falling breath (it goes well with the Eastern practice of paying attention to the air passing over your nostrils). Often I listen to the radio at the same time, and if I fall asleep, so much the better.

These are very personal details and in a way I’d rather keep them to myself and write in more general terms, but I mention them in case something in my own story gives someone a way in to a useful practice of their own.

One thing that fascinated me in my twenties was that I seemed to have finally found a way to ‘let Jesus into my heart’. This phrase had been central to my evangelical childhood, and I thought I’d done just that at the age of eight, using the sort of prayer of invitation I’d been taught. It was my own initiative, but If I hadn’t done it I wouldn’t have quite belonged in a very Evangelical family. I was puzzled that nothing much changed. However, I grew used to thinking of myself as a born-again Christian, which was reinforced by more emotional Charismatic gatherings I took part in early adolescence.

At the age of 21, after years of searching, I felt a sense of liberation from the need to find the ‘true’ set of Christian beliefs among conflicting claims. A couple of years later I started using the Jesus Prayer regularly. It breathed new life in all the Jesus-talk and Jesus-songs and Jesus-think of my childhood. While still using it daily, I wrote this poem:

O King of the world!
This world, this mottle
Of sordid little sins and
Unexpected acts of human kindness
Is this your kingdom?
Do the deadends also belong to you?

Come on, King!
Get off your throne
And make us see.
Come on, Jesus of Nazareth!
Get out of your holy book
And show us who you really are.
Come on, Kingdom!


The main illustration is Christus Pantocrator in the apsis of the cathedral of Cefalù. Edited from Image:Cefalu Christus Pantokrator.jpg. This was by  by Andreas Wahra in 2006, edited by Entheta. Via Wikimedia. The second illustration is a small eastern orthodox prayer rope (50 knots) dated February 2008 by Nesusvet, also via Wikimedia


5 comments on this post:

UKViewer said...

If Jesus were to come now,
Who would he seek out to pow, wow.
The Rich Banker high on coke,
or the Old, homeless tramp with no coat,

If Jesus arrived without a blast,
Would we notice, would he be an outcast,
Would St Pauls, put out the red carpet,
Or shut it’s doors?

If Jesus gathered his gang,
would he fall foul,
of ASBO’s and be moved on,
by the Neighbourhood PSCO?

Would he arrive in London or Moscow,
or Palestine, or Sudan or Macau,
With the poorest most vulnerable,
or the Celebrity culture to which we kow tow?

Would he be welcome by his flock today,
Or will we ignore him and tell him to go away.
Our ignorance is bliss, we celebrate it now,
Surely he’d be in for an noisy row.

Best he be advised to stay away,
And to come again, another day.

Chris Fewings said...

Thank you UKviewer

01 January 2016 11:38
01 January 2013 18:51
Charlie said...

Nice to see my friend David Rowe doing his thing (on the video).

02 January 2013 09:35
Harold Gardner said...

Laura the details of your personal faith adventure are more than interesting; they are also edifying. I have done little writing about where I ended up. You prompt me to consider setting some time aside for that.

Lay Anglicana said...

Please do, Harold, and – if I may be so cheeky – would you consider blogging it on Lay Anglicana as a guest post?

03 January 2013 18:28
03 January 2013 16:59

Leave a Reply

We rely on donations to keep this website running.