Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Jesus Prayer

The Jesus Prayer comes to us as a gift of the Eastern Orthodox tradition. It was transmitted in its earliest version as lectio divina. The Jesus Prayer is more narrowly focussed than lectio divina because it always uses the same biblical words. It is popularised by the book, The Way of a Pilgrim, which told of an unknown pilgrim of the mid-nineteenth century wandering through Russia and Siberia, from one holy place to another in search of a way of prayer.

The words is the combination of the pleas in Luke 18:38 and Luke 18:13.

The first phrase- “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” – comes from the lips of a blind man outside Jericho. The second plea comes from the story of the Pharisee and the publican. The Pharisee in his prayer listed all his pious practices. The publican prayed a simple, heartfelt prayer: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner”.

Across the ages, Christians have prayed. “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner.” One of the shorter versions is: “Jesus Christ, have mercy”.

The Jesus Prayer is called a prayer of the “mind in the heart”. In the beginning your body prays the prayer. Your mouth repeats it as your mind concentrate on physically reciting it and the meaning of the words recited. Eventually, after thousands of repetition, perhaps over a number of years, you no longer repeat the words with your mouth but your mind keeps praying the prayer. Finally comes the prayer of the mind in the heart. You no longer consciously think about the words of the prayer.

Now your whole life prays the prayer without your thinking about it. Or the prayer prays your life. Unconsciously, you focus your deepest attention-the attention of your entire life- on God.

soli deo gloria

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