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Friday, February 22, 2013

Jesus Prayer

To pick up on yesterday (The Way of the Pilgrim:The Jesus Prayer Journey) note that some are critical of book. provides a more thorough assessment from a Russian Orthodox blog. The best of the three, it goes into greater detail about the book and offers a stern reminder that the speed of transformation by this prayer is SLOW and that the goal is to offer each petition intentionally and reverently.

One practice of the Pilgrim was frequent use of the sign of the cross. The use of the sign of the cross is met with resistance in some quarters. However, this action can be a physical expression of sincere faith. As such, at times, I am trying to include signing myself with the cross each time I say the Jesus Prayer; mind, lips, heart, body all focused and in sync on the singular event; calling out to Jesus for His mercy.

One immediate fruit of the repetition of this prayer has been the time consumed by praying is no longer available for less helpful thoughts. I do not know about you, but I find my mind constantly ruminates upon unhelpful things. For example, if there is something in my experience which disappoints, let's say my kids leave dirty dishes on the table, I often find myself outwardly being a faithful servant (I put them in sink) but inwardly I engage in a spontaneous process of destructive thinking (I am irritated and think of other times they  have been thoughtless, I think about all I do for them and how ungreatful they are, I think of punishments which I want to dole out to them, etc.). Now maybe I am the only one with this type of free flowing thought, but I doubt it. By reviewing (constantly) reasons to be disappointed and frustrated, I add fuel to the fire of anger and resentment. It is just plain hard, however, to call on Jesus, over and over, while thinking such negative thoughts. He emptied Himself of His divinity to take on our humanity. He died on the cross. He freely loved, reconciled and blessed sinners (like me) and invites us into the Father's Kingdom. Can I go to Jesus to seek mercy without being merciful? Can I go to Jesus, the great servant of humankind, without a servant's heart? Can I repeat the holy name and then blaspheme it by being petty and self-seeking? Obviously, no, I cannot.

So this simple prayer leaves no room for a more bitter alternative practice. It fills up the empty minutes of my day with holy thoughts and leaves less room for thinking about things which do me (and others) no benefit.

Now is every utterance of the prayer sincere and focused and completely perfect expression of my heart? No. Obviously, there are times when it is just a repeated phrase. Yet, even then, in those unrecollected moments, I am saying the right words and not thinking about things which do not benefit. I should seek to be sincere and focused, I should seek to make my heart more authentic but I can take solace in knowing if I am not doing it as well as I would like, I am still not doing negative things...

There will be spiritual assaults upon us if we choose to go deeper with God. It is not a practice which we slip into easily (here the book must be read with caution. One should not assume that in a few days one will be a practiced expert). Doubts and concerns and worries will push all the harder. The world, the flesh and the devil are real adversaries and like any institutions will fight to the end to sustain themselves. And lest we think that this pilgrim is so different from us, a being from a time and place unlike our own where prayer makes sense, hear his words (p 45) about a fellow traveler in the journey of prayer:
Listening to him [the other pilgrim] speak I sympathized and thought to myself: they say that only the educated and the intelligent are prone to freethinking and belief in nothing. But here is one of our own--a simple peasant--and what doubts he is capable of ! It appears that the powers of darkness are allowed access to everyone, and perhaps it is easier for them to attack unsophisticated people. What were these doubts? A brief list: Is it really true what that book (Bible) says--that dead men will be resurrected...who really knows if there will even be a one  has come back from the dead...maybe the book was written by some clergy...just to scare us fools...Life is full of hardships as it is, without any consolation--and there won't be anything in  the next life. So what's the point? Isn't it better to take it easy, at least in this life, and to enjoy yourself?

All of us must decide, based on the same set of data. Do I believe or not? If I do believe, how then shall I live? For a believer, the practice of the Jesus Prayer is a most helpful and fruitful practice, especially when accompanied by attendance at worship, faithful community life, study of Scripture and the teachings of holy men and women, and a life poured out in obedience to God, serving the needs of others, and hanging on to Jesus for all you are worth! I hope you find time each day to practicing the Jesus Prayer (or some form of it which resonates with your own faith expression) and that in setting aside this time, and filling idle moments with repetitive prayer, you find yourself less able to engage in unhelpful practices of thought or behavior, and more inclined to love the Lord with all your mind, heart, soul and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.

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