During Lent I have committed to the discipline of the Jesus Prayer and am reading the book about the Russian pilgrim called The Way of the Pilgrim. Steeped in the Russian Orthodox spirit, the book resonates with a sense of sin and unworthiness. The pilgrim indicates that regular use of the Jesus Prayer has led him ever deeper into an awareness of his own humble state. There is a gloomy darkness to it all, yet permeated with great light and joy (because the focus is even more on teh good and holy God qnd our Lord Jesus). The paradox (gloom and light) is hard to wrap one's mind around. Part of that may be because I read his words through the lense of my cultural experiences and assumptions. Even so, my journey with the Pilgrim has been a blessing. I have seen concrete evidence of the value of praying without ceasing by employing the Jesus Prayer these last two weeks. In addition, I have noticed in myself a desire to create alternative prayer forms which, while similar to the Jesus Prayer, have a different emphasis. One of these, repetitive thanksgiving, has truly blossomed in the last week.
I shared my experience with the baby yesterday. The insight into my limited intellect and limited insight and limited understanding has led me to understand why I must pray thanksgiving more constantly (with less petition and intercession). For many years I have criticized the concept of prayer as a "to do" list for God. At our healing conference last Fall the import of thanks and praise (rather than begging and pleading) opened my mind to more deeply understand that trust in God implies the belief that He desires to bless us. Thanking God for His kindness and mercy transforms one from "a manipulator of the gods" (human religion in its lowest form) to a son/daughter in the household of a gracious Father (the model which Jesus displays). To voice one's gratitude is to recognize that one is a baby in the arms of God. It is also to acknowledge that our cries are enough for, as God revealed to Moses, He sees, He hears, He knows, and He remembers His covenant. He is a God of redemption, salvation, healing, renewal and life-giving love. Content in that knowledge, how can I keep from a torrent of praise and thanks, even if (maybe especially if) He is not doing what my less developed mind thinks best?
In preparation for a retreat I am leading for our parish in a few weeks, I have been rereading George Hunter's THe Celtic Way of Evangelism. Going back to the mission work of St. Patrick (providentially the date of our Sunday afternoon retreat is Patrick's Fest day) Hunter provides information on the the first great missionary effort of the post-Apostolic Christian church. Patrick and later Celtic Saints, bishops, monks and laity were the drivng force for Christianizing pagan Europe. Perhaps in the days ahead I will share about his book (and tip my hand on the retreat content!)
What I want to look at today was (p33) Celtic prayer. Quoting from Ray Simpson's Exploring Celtic Spirituality, Hunter says that the Irish approach to prayer is less structered and more focused on the middle way (between the two poles of "ultimate concerns" which are philosphical, theological and the stuff of liturgy and at the opposite end, the concrete, functional world of science and technology) The Middle Way has to do with negotiating life and its daily challenges. Things like taking care of the kids, doing our job, keeping up the house, interacting in relationships. Celtic spirituality permeates the every-day with an awareness of God-among-us (Emmanuel) and expresses that faith lyrically in its prayer.
Hear Hunter: "Contemplative prayer is the way we fulfill St. Paul's counsel to 'pray withous ceasing.' It is an ongoing or very frequent opening of the heart to the Triune God, often while engaging in each of the many experiences that fill a day." Like the Russian monk, Patrick and his followers, seek to take St. Paul literally. The Celtic model is more Trinitarian, using poetic turn of phrase rather than repetition of the Jesus Prayer. However, in the simple nature of the words, there is a degree of repetition. In Patrick's famous prayer, for example, we say, "Christ above me, Christ below me, Christ to the right, Christ to the left, Christ behind me, Christ before, Christ in all I meet this day." It is repetitive in its theme even as it provides multiple pespectives on the one presence of Christ. This makes sense of my own drive to add additional titles to the Jesus prayer. [Lord Jesus, Son of God, Son of Mary, Son of David, King and Lord, Messiah and Savior, Lamb of God, Great High Priest, Conquering Warrior, Word made Flesh which then leads to employing other verbs in addition to the cry of mercy; heal us! save us; rescue us; pray in us; use us; glorify your name in us; etc. Such prayers can develop into an endless combination of praise, thanks and small petitions, which when said over and over (maybe with the aid of prayer beads or rosary) can fill the mind, heart and soul with attentiveness to the Triune God and openness to God dwelling within and ruling us.]
Obviously, one cannot say which of the two ways (Russian or Celtic) is right. Each grows out of a human context. And neither can easily be co-opted by a middle class, white guy in America shaped and formed by the assumptions and beliefs which have so deeply influenced how I think and believe and practice my faith. I am praying ilke someone else as I embrace either model. Yet I can learn from each and waken within me that which does resonate with the two approaches. After all, my Scriptures are ancient and Hebrew, later (NT) Jewish mixed with Greek culture. I stand outside when reading my Bible as well. Yet I know by analogy with my own world that God Who revealed Himself to them back then, over there, can and does speak to us (&me), in and through these words. And the holy men and woman of different places and times, reading and living those same Biblical words, provide me a wealth of spiritual teaching. we are different, but we share much as humans inspite of cultural differences. And following their way can help me know and understand how better to live the faith in my/our way.
I am a baby. Too ignorant and too simple minded to understand fully the ways of God. But I do think and feel and if not enough to grasp God in toto, surely enough to be able to know, love and worship Him. Not as He deserves but as I am able. So I listen to the words of other babies, Russian and Celtic. And I fill the hours of the day with thoughts of God, with meditation on realities which i try to integrate in my living each day (that middle way!). I concentrate on simpler prayer, prayer focused more on thanks and praise, prayer focused on awareness of the Triune God who is (invisibly) near and whose care and kindness can be trusted. And I share this journey of faith with you dear reader. The more we pray the more our world is open to His Kingdom!