Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Some thoughts on praying the Jesus Prayer

Praying the Jesus Prayer is so challenging. I use the full form of the Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner" and saying it with the prayer rope I usually find it falls, for me, naturally into two parts:

First: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God" is the first part, which is when I find my self 'looking' at Jesus. When I say 'looking' I mean that as I try to put my attention on addressing the words to Him I am aware that my eyes, if I were to open them as I say the words, would  be looking up, somewhere towards the ceiling. This is not conscious, in fact I remember somewhere being told that usually the Prayer is said, in it's entirety, with your chin on your chest. I have tried this but it does not seem 'natural' to me.

I have thought about this and the 'feeling' I experience - which is why I sometimes finish the prayer with tears in my eyes - is one of a kind of yearning directed at Jesus.

Of course this is not felt consistently throughout the prayer. My mind flits. One moment it stays on the phrase, then jumps to whatever is to hand - forthcoming events, decisions etc - then jumps back to it and to Jesus again. (This is true of the whole prayer and not just to the first part). Sometimes I am able to go through several repeats before this happens. Other times it seems like every other time I say it.

The second phrase is: "have mercy on me a sinner". Here I am still 'looking' at Jesus - sort of - but also I am aware of myself and my own sinfulness. In fact I find that the Prayer seems to have the ability to strip away the layers of my heart or soul, enabling me to see that there is another layer beneath. And as I continue to use the Prayer it peels off more layers revealing a part of me or an aspect of me that I didn't know before. Prior to my starting to use the Prayer I was only aware of sins I committed. As a good evangelical I would confess these daily always attempting to "keep short accounts with God" as I was taught. However praying the Prayer has taken me beyond that and much deeper. Now I am able to see why I committed those sins. And as another layers are stripped away I am able to understand and recognise who it was/is that commits such sins. Each layer seems to be taking me down and down the various layers and revealing more and more of myself to me. And it is very revealing, if not a little shocking. I am left wondering what will be exposed next!

One of the side effect of this is that I am much more tolerant of others as I see aspects of them in me. In fact I wonder sometimes how there is not much much more evil in the world given some of the things that are buried deep down in each one of us! Of course we are not all darkness, there are yet glimmers of light. But there is more darkness than I ever imagined, which is why we desperately need the grace and mercy of God.

So the second phrase takes on a sort of pleading for Jesus to have mercy on me because of who it is I am recognising for the first time. It also takes on a wider diemnsion as I pray that, somehow, for the world too.

And yet it is not a bad experience. It's a kind of - to borrow Shakespeare's phrase - a "sweet sorrow" accompanied by a sort of soft pressure or pain which you suspect can only be brought out or dealt with by a good cry. As if there is a dam holding something back which is slowly being eroded by the Prayer.

I realise that a lot of the above is describing feelings, and we are to be beware of feelings, at least as accurate indicators of truth and reality. But as we are beings with an emotional component to our makeup - which is what being fully human and fully alive is - then surely emotions of some kind are bound to be present. I am guessing that the Fathers were only wary of them because thy should not become the ruling force that discerns whether a thing is genuine or not.

Anyhow I was just wondering if I have got this all wrong, or am heading in the completely wrong direction or something. Should I 'break' the Prayer in two? Should I ignore feelings? This stripping of layers, is it good or bad or too introspective? Should I be looking up or down? Am I being too analytical?

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