Residence: Athens, Georgia
Date of Performance/Collection: 3/15/19
Primary Language: English
Main piece: When in times of great stress or excitement, one will exclaim, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”
Context: The informant is half Irish and half American. Her mother’s side of the family is originally from and still resides in Atlanta, Georgia. Her paternal extended family live in Sligo, Ireland. She grew up culturally Catholic, but she does not consider herself religious. Our conversation took place in February on my couch at home in Atlanta after she began recounting her recent trip to visit family in Ireland. The informant first heard this exclamation-prayer from her Catholic family in Ireland, specifically her great-aunt, as they constantly use it all day everyday. Because the informant is not religious, she sometimes grows uncomfortable with overuse of it in casual conversation as it is a constant reminder of how she’s quite different from the rest of her family in terms of spiritual and moral beliefs. The prayer has stuck with her because of how different it is from American exclamations; when one of her visiting extended family members comes to the U.S., “JMJ” highlights their “otherness.”
Personal thoughts: Upon first read, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” may not seem like a prayer at all, but rather an explanation. However, whenever someone is exclaiming these words, they are either a) asking for help in a time of stress, or b) giving thanks for something unexpected/exciting happening, which are really the two key functions of prayers. What’s nice about the JMJ prayer is that it’s more modern in the sense that its text is shorter in length, and therefore more palatable and digestible to the average, on-the-go American. Out with traditional words and rituals, and in with quick, trendy expressions that double as prayers! JMJ is also interesting because it offers a sly alternative to taking the Lord’s name directly in vain, which devout Christians tend to avoid on the basis of their faith. By exclaiming, “Jesus, Mary and Joseph!”, you’re invoking powerful names in the bible, but you’re not directly saying “Oh, my God.” It’s a barely-there distinction, since Jesus is considered synonymous with the Lord in many ways, but the inclusion of Joseph and Mary somewhat soften the bite of taking Jesus’s name in vain. And by the time you reach the end of the phrase and have named all three, your local Catholic mother might’ve forgotten you even mentioned Jesus in the first place.