Lent Course 4 – The Jesus Prayer – We do not know what we are doing / The Jesus prayer as the culmination of prayer

A Lent course – for St John the Evangelist, Roslyn

Praying in the Name of Jesus

‘The Jesus Prayer’

  1. We do not know what we are doing

The Jesus prayer as the foundation and culmination of prayer

 

Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders, if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.

This Jesus is

“the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;

it has become the cornerstone.”

 

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.’

Acts of the Apostles Chapter 4 vs 8-12

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”

Lent is perhaps one of the most helpful seasons to us in discerning our predicament, that which calls us to cry out ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’.

For Lent is not a season which can readily be hijacked by our Passions, those desires of which we learned briefly last week, which have been distorted so that their focus is not God, but ourselves. Lent, doesn’t attract, and in this world where ‘everything and everyone has their price’ it is (almost) impossible to commercialise. Like our Saviour, there is nothing in Lent’s appearance that we might desire it . . . yet we notice two trends. Firstly that the classical disciplines of Lent, that is those rooted in The Tradition, have all but disappeared. ‘Fasting’ is largely reduced to ‘giving up things’. Recently someone told me of all the things they were giving up, and after a moments reflection said ‘I suppose that none of them are things I should have picked up in the first place’! In itself a lesson

Secondly that giving things up has been replaced by picking something up . . . and yet Lent was always a time for both. We fasted AND prayed AND gave alms. And we might note, like perhaps giving up things that we shouldn’t have picked up in the first place, these things we pick up are perhaps those things in which we should be engaged all of the time – feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the lonely.

These practices of Lent should take root, change us – better ‘HEAL us’. It is after all a time for that most fundamental changes Repentance which is the Heart of the Jesus prayer, it is our responding to his presence and his command to ‘take up our mat and walk’. But what does that repentance mean? Why is the continual praying of the Jesus prayer understood as so central to that?

[Jean-Claude Larchet says this of The Jesus Prayer ‘[it] occupies an essential place in Orthodox spirituality and is considered as the most complete form of prayer, containing the qualities of all other forms of prayer. the Fathers designate this type of prayer as prayer in the strict sense, setting it above the other forms of prayer and, notably, above psalmody. . . Yet, a the same time as occupying the apex of spiritual life, this prayer appears as one of the latter’s foundations and as one of the principal means that allow man, by God’s grace to be purified of his sins and healed of his passions and to acquire the virtues. As SS Callistus and Ignatius Xanthopouli state, it is “the beginning of the whole beloved work of God” ’][1]

 

Let us take a moment to consider a well known, but perhaps oft misunderstood passage of scripture.

Now as they went on their way, [Jesus] entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’

 

What is drawn to your attention?

 

One or two points to note

 

  • Martha welcomes Jesus into her home. The home may stand as a metaphor for life or heart. Indeed we often use the language of ‘inviting Jesus into our life’ – but why? Why do we ask him in? And perhaps more importantly ‘Who is He anyway?’

 

  • Martha embodies us all – not in her busyness per se, but in her ‘distractedness’. Where is our attention? Caught up in Our Life?

 

  • Mary embodies discipleship which is a giving of her total attention to Jesus. In this she is like say Bartimaeus – who is intent on One thing [Note that Bartimaeus, once healed, unusually follows Jesus] Mary we might say ‘sees who Jesus is’

 

The method of the Jesus Prayer is to bring the distracted head, into the heart. to this end some people use certain postures and breathing techniques when praying the prayer, but these are not recommended without the accompaniment of a staretz. Through our baptism, Christ dwells in our hearts. Through the praying of the prayer we are to make find our home in him, and thus find our true home.

 

Lent, in stripping away those distractions which we use to insulate us from the presence of God in Jesus, awakes us to SOME of the sense of our predicament. As we noted previously, not all of it, for we would not survive the revelation, but enough to be going on with. And this stripping away is of urgent necessity. For we do not know what we are doing. We are largely unconscious in the most profound sense. And that lack of consciousness is compounded in the Western tradition where we have reduced sin to an individualised moral disorder. Like children we say ‘I didn’t do it!’ Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

 

 

Two others also, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. Then Jesus said,

‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.’

 

Jesus, we will remember in his dialogue with the wealthy young man, says, ‘Why do you call me good? Only God is Good’. Yet we remember that in the beginning

 

God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

 

In the first week of this study we used the imagery of Resonance as Life in its fullness. That when we are truly Well our lives resonate with the Love and the mercy and the forgiveness and indeed the very Glory of God – as does the whole creation. St Paul reminds us that Our place in the Creation is of great significance when he says ‘ I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.’

 

If we might join for a moment in an act of imagining – a vast structure of beautiful glass threads, encompassing and threaded through out all of creation, such that as some uncreated Light reflects and refracts in and through, there is a glorious brilliance of colours and lustre beyond any human artifice. Such beauty as we cannot begin to comprehend, although we may have ‘seen’ a slight echo of it, seeing a view that ‘took our breath away’.

 

These glass threads or strings are not still, but as they are beautiful to behold, marvelously they also vibrate Sounding a symphony the like of which we have never heard but perhaps once again we have ‘seen’ the merest reflection of when caught in an ecstatic moment listening to a great orchestra.

 

And Knowing that in this Everything is related to everything else through the beating heart of it all – All resonating with One Life

 

This is the Goodness of the Creation – filled with the Glory of God . . . and then there is the human condition set out in the Passions[2] – wishing as it were to take it to ourselves, without any ‘Sense’ of who or what we are – like wild bulls let loose in a shop selling the most exquisite Limoges. We do not even know what we are doing, or if we do we push the thought deep down. Our Passions have so overwhelmed us . . . (and now they are on the verge of overwhelming the whole created order.)

 

But . . . let us return for a moment to Martha. Her condition is also ours. She is distracted, and she does not realise who Jesus is or where she is – thinking herself in ‘her house’. When we pray the Jesus prayer we are bringing our distracted minds into our hearts – making our way home.

 

Next Week: Praying in the Name of Jesus. Discovering who we are.

Further reading resources: All of these are accessible and helpful

‘The power of the name’ Kallistos Ware

‘Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer’ : Norris Chumley (The book of the documentary we watched)

And the classic – the book which was responsible for the modern interest in the West in The Jesus Prayer ; ‘The Way of a Pilgrim’

[1] ‘Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses’ Volume II p101. Published by Alexander Press, Montreal 2012

[2] Pride – Vain glory – Sadness – Anger – Fear – Gluttony – Lust – Acedia – Self-love – Love of money

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