Last week (Jan 5th) James kicked off our first series of the new year, a series based on Greg Peters’s book, The Monkhood of all Believers. James talked to us about making a space within, our own little monastery, in which we can begin to nurture that space within. As James tells us in his message, we can indeed create our own “monastic space” wherever we are. We don’t need to go off to a hermitage or large communal monastery to have a place of solitude with God. That place can be, in point of fact, wherever we are.
With this in mind, beginning this week I’ll be posting a prayer practice/discipline each week with an eye towards expanding our understanding of prayer, of how to pray, and how this can help us create a life of prayer that goes beyond the sometimes monotonous feeling of stale prayers. In the coming weeks we’re going to look at how to use a prayer liturgy, how to practice imaginative prayer, contemplative prayer, visio divina, and breath prayer. Each will include instructions on how to participate in these practices. Our hope is that you will find new avenues of prayer and solitude with God, even when you are surrounded by people in busy or crowded places.
For this week, we’re going to start with a very simple practice, that of praying the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer has a very long history, dating back to the 6th century Desert Fathers and Mothers. While it has received relatively little attention in the West, the Eastern Orthodox Church places a high regard on this prayer practice.
The Jesus Prayer is a very simple, very easy to remember prayer that encompasses everything the follower of Jesus needs in prayer. The long version of the prayer goes like this: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Today, many shorten it (as I do when I pray it) to the following: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me.” And that’s it. In that simple prayer, we have all of the words we need as it relates to our needs, both physical and spiritual. There really never is a time where in some part of our lives we don’t need God’s mercy, be it in physical distress, emotional difficulties, times where we need wisdom in our decision-making process, or even in simple times of prayer when we just need, well, God.
Want to try it? Here’s how. Take a deep breath, let it out. Pray these words: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Pause, then pray the words again. Each time let the words be infused with everything you’re feeling you need to tell God. Let those words represent your needs, desires, problems, confessions, and trials. And that’s it. This a simple way to be prayerful throughout the day. Here’s a discipline using the Jesus Prayer that I tried back in the Spring of 2019, and found to be quite profound: set your phone/watch to go off every hour, starting at 9am and going to 6pm. When it buzzes, pray the Jesus Prayer, being present and in the moment.
Finally, and this is VERY important, do NOT view the Jesus prayer as a way to appease an angry or disappointed God (for he surely is NOT that!); rather, when you pray those words, see them, really see them, as a prayer to a God whose love for you knows no bounds and who looks upon you with eyes full of mercy and compassion. For that’s who God truly is.
Grace, and peace, to you,